Tyson Bagent is both completely original and nothing new.
The only two other Bears rookie undrafted free agent quarterbacks to start a game came with asterisks: one was a strike-year replacement player and the other former CFL star. Sunday against the Raiders at Soldier Field, he’ll become the fourth undrafted rookie quarterback in the NFL since 1990 to start a game in the first seven weeks of a season.
There have been few trajectories more unlikely than that of the 23-year-old son of an arm wrestling legend who was a no-star high school recruit and later set NCAA passing records 10 miles from home at Shepherd University. In the 10 months since his college career ended, Bagent impressed Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy at the Senior Bowl, signed a contract when the draft ended and made the Bears.
Last week, Bagent was running the scout team. Sunday, he’ll start.
“It’s always a dream for every young kid, every young football player to play in the NFL,” he said.
The Bears, though, have spun this carousel before. And while the faces are new, the results have been agonizingly familiar. When outgoing Bears president/CEO Ted Phillips retired at the end of last season, he lamented the main reason why the team didn’t win more under his tenure.
“Let’s see, we’ve had 45 different (starting) quarterbacks, I think, since we won the Super Bowl,” he said in January. “So that’s probably No. 1.”
It was 43 then, actually. Bagent makes it 44 since the Super Bowl win in January 1986. No. 45 could come as soon as the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft; the Bears would have the top two picks — the Panthers’ and their own — were the season to end today.
Since George McCaskey became chairman in May 2011, the Bears have had 16 starting quarterbacks. They are, in order: Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian, Nathan Peterman and now Bagent.
Only two franchises — the Browns and Texans — can claim more since 2011. The Chargers, by contrast, have played three starters. The other three NFC North teams have averaged only seven.
Since May 2011, the Bears haven’t had a single quarterback start every game in one season. The Lions have 10 such cases during that time, the Packers eight and the Vikings five.
Related: the Bears are one of five NFL teams without a playoff win since 2011.
Some veteran Bears backups have had bursts of success: Josh McCown set their single-season passing record in 2013 at age 34; Brian Hoyer threw for 397 yards, the fifth-most in franchise history, in 2016, three days shy of his 31st birthday; and Nick Foles rallied the Bears from a 16-point deficit at 31. It’s been forever, though, since the Bears developed a young quarterback into anything resembling an asset.
Doing so is the great eraser. The 49ers passed on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, gave Jimmy Garoppolo a $137.5 million contract the next year and then, in 2021, traded three first-round picks to draft bust Trey Lance. But in part because they turned “Mr. Irrelevant” Brock Purdy nto a standout starter last year, both GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan were given contract extensions last month.
Bagent is intriguing because, unlike so many previous Bears backups, he doesn’t have a track record. In a lost season, he’s something to dream on — even if the end result is cementing himself as a reliable backup for the next four years.
History shows Bagent is unlikely to star as an undrafted rookie — but he never should have made it to this point, either. History also tells us the Bears’ quarterbacks carousel will spin again soon.
So step right up, Starter No. 44. Godspeed.