Though Robert Quinn has not been present for the voluntary portion of the Chicago Bears offseason program to this point, he’s still making an impact in the defensive line meeting room.
New line coach Travis Smith spent the last two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders working alongside Rod Marinelli, who coached Quinn with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019.
“A lot of our tapes we’ve shown in our room are skill-development progression tapes of (Quinn) in Dallas that I had cut up already from Marinelli,” Smith said. “When we set it for the young guys especially, it’s good for them to see how he works his pass-rush progression.”
Smith has met Quinn, who came to Halas Hall last month to receive the Brian Piccolo Award two days before the draft, and they have spoken on the phone. When Smith will have an opportunity to actually coach Quinn remains to be seen. Coach Matt Eberflus said “it’s my hope” Quinn will be at mandatory minicamp in mid-June.
Quinn’s absence – and veteran free-agent signee Al-Quadin Muhammad also has not been on the field while media were present – has created a surplus of opportunities for young players such as Trevis Gipson and rookie Dominique Robinson and even veteran Jeremiah Attaochu.
Smith believes the switch to a 4-3 front could benefit Gipson, who played with his hand in the dirt in college at Tulsa before the previous coaching staff converted him to outside linebacker. Gipson had seven sacks while playing 49% of the defensive snaps in 2021 and could be ready for another jump.
“The first thing with Gipson I noticed is he has a very good awareness of the quarterback,” Smith said. “He had a lot of ball production last year. That’s not something that just comes naturally to everyone.
“He has good awareness that when you’re an edge rusher, that if guys get high in the pocket, he can come back inside. Or if he has the edge, then he can turn it, where then he can affect that quarterback and also go for the ball. ”
Robinson has rare athletic ability for the position as a former quarterback and wide receiver and although he’s raw, the Bears believe there’s a chance he could be a situational pass rusher as a rookie.
The Bears will not learn a ton about their pass rush in the post-Khalil Mack era until pads go on in training camp, but they’re at least getting chances to evaluate the movement skills of the young players while testing their aptitude for learning the scheme.
General manager Ryan Poles traded Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers for a second-round draft pick that he used on safety Jaquan Brisker and a 2023 sixth-round pick that he traded for two seventh-rounders this year. He selected safety Elijah Hicks and punter Trenton Gill with those choices.
The Bears moved Mack because they are nowhere near being a contending team in 2022, although the thought at Halas Hall at this time last year was that they were in that mode. Trading Mack also helped clear up the team’s salary-cap position after this year.
Quinn is perhaps the only veteran remaining from the previous regime whom Poles could likely turn into draft capital via a trade, and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported last week that the Pro Bowl pass rusher wants out of town. If that’s the case, finding a trade partner could be a win for all parties.
“I’m excited about Robert,” Poles said earlier this month during an interview on the “Mully & Haugh Show” on WSCR-AM 670. “In terms of moves and all that, this league is crazy. You know, I can not rule anything out and give absolutes, but I want him on this team. ”
You can make a case why the Bears would want the 32-year-old on the team. He’s a consummate professional and a perfect scheme fit, certainly a more natural one in Eberflus’ 4-3 defense than the 3-4 scheme he played in the previous two seasons. Quinn is coming off a franchise record 18½-sack season and is the only player on the front who currently would be a matchup issue for offenses.
A stronger argument, however, can be made for dealing Quinn. It’s hard to imagine him being productive when the roster has been reloaded to the point the Bears would be a threat in the NFC. He’s due $ 13 million this season and is signed through 2024, but all of the guaranteed money in the contract has been exhausted.
Maybe Poles saying he wants Quinn to be a part of the team is his way of maintaining leverage in any trade discussions. Quinn certainly could become attractive if a contending team suddenly experiences a need during training camp, preseason or the first two months of the season. Then Poles could flip him for a 2023 draft pick. The trade deadline has not been announced, but last year it was Nov. 2, the day after Week 8 ended.
Of course, the Bears assume the risk of losing Quinn to injury by carrying him on the roster, but he has been pretty durable over the last five seasons and said he’s spending this offseason getting his body ready for the grind of another year.
“I did not expect to go anywhere or want to go anywhere, but again, this is a crazy business,” Quinn said after receiving the Piccolo Award a couple of weeks after Mack was traded. “If something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
Maybe Quinn has changed his stance since or maybe he’s an anti-diva who will not publicly discuss playing for a contender as he prepares for his 12th season.
Whatever the case, the Bears probably would not have been much worse than 6-11 last year even without Quinn’s sack production. His presence in 2022 is unlikely to be the difference between this being a playoff roster or not. As active as Poles was in making trades on Day 3 of the draft, getting a return for Quinn would put the first-year GM in a better position next April, when the Bears should be closer to having some of their holes filled with young players who have bright futures.
It’s all about timing, and maybe Poles will be a seller at the trade deadline. If so, he has to hope Quinn picks up where he left off in 2021. For now, Marinelli’s cut-ups of Quinn will be good teaching points for the rest of the room.