Bears backup quarterback Tyson Bagent had just run for his second touchdown in as many games Saturday when, sitting in the Soldier Field locker room, he texted his friend Mike McCook. McCook’s father, Ernie, was Bagent’s coach when he was a record-setting passer at Div. II Shepherd University.
“I was just texting [Mike],” Bagent said with a smile Saturday. “Saying, ‘You know, it’s a shame coach didn’t run me more in college.’”
After running for 12 touchdowns in 53 college games, he ran for two touchdowns in three preseason games. Saturday, he was helped by the Bills’ willingness to play man coverage. More defenders had their backs to the quarterback.
“I think just being able to utilize my legs, especially when you get in situations where they’re in man coverage so they’re focused on running with the receivers, a lot of times the middle of the field can open up for you,” he said. “So just being able to extend plays when receivers aren’t necessarily wide open. Just really play the game of football.”
The Bears didn’t fall for Bagent this preseason because of his legs, though. Their goal has never been to develop a second-string quarterback whose traits mirror that of Justin Fields, who might be the best rushing quarterback in the NFL. Rather, the Bears admire Bagent’s confidence — rare for an undrafted rookie from a small school — and his ability to run the offense efficiently.
But is that enough to be the No. 2 quarterback?
The Bears’ decision to cut P.J. Walker on Sunday night certainly helped his chances. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears found a way to inject veteran savvy into their quarterback room, whether that was by acquiring a quarterback before Tuesday’s 3 p.m. cut deadline, during Wednesday’s waiver wire run or by slipping third-stringer Nathan Peterman through waivers and onto the practice squad. They could try the risky move of pushing Bagent through waivers, with hopes of getting him to the practice squad, if they found a veteran option.
Outside candidates might be hard-pressed to learn the Bears’ playbook before Sept. 10. Tim Boyle, who finished last season with the Bears, could be let go from his role as the Jets’ third-stringer. He’s probably not a significant upgrade over Peterman, though. Would Will Grier be? Presuming he was going to be cut after the Cowboys traded for Trey Lance on Friday night, Grier went 29-for-35 for 305 yards and two touchdowns in what he described as a farewell preseason game Saturday. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy called it the best preseason performance by a quarterback he’s seen since 1999. Colt McCoy? He was the Cardinals’ starter stringer all preseason before getting cut Tuesday.
If the Bears stick with Bagent as their No. 2 quarterback, they’ll be bucking trends both throughout the league and inside their own building. Consider:
• When Chase Daniel began his two-year stint as the Bears’ second-stringer in 2018, he was 31 years old and had appeared in 57 games.
• When Nick Foles began his two-year tenure as the Bears’ backup and occasional starter in 2020, he was 31 and had played in 58 games.
• When Trevor Siemian started last year as the Bears’ backup, he was 30 and had appeared in 33 games.
Siemian is Joe Burrow’s backup with the Bengals and Daniel and Foles are out of football.
Perhaps keeping Bagent at No. 2 makes sense, though. If Fields goes down, the Bears’ season probably goes down too. In that case, playing the 23-year-old rookie would provide the Bears with two different scenarios: on-the-job training either pushes Bagent into becoming an intriguing long-term option or it spirals the team to the bottom of the league. Given that the Bears have their own first-round draft pick and that of the Panthers — and the NFL draft has two prime quarterbacks expected to be available — either case would push the franchise forward.