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Mike Glennon can take the Bears from bad to mediocre

The Bears dubbed Glennon the best option of a bad crop of free agents.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Diego Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Glennon hasn’t started an NFL game since 2014. He has thrown just 11 passes the past two seasons and has a 5-13 record as a starting quarterback.

Glennon will make nearly $15 million per year after signing his latest contract with the Chicago Bears.

The free-agent quarterback market is so dire, a low-upside option like Glennon will make bank this offseason. The former North Carolina State standout was Tampa Bay’s primary starter during a rocky rookie season then was replaced by journeyman Josh McCown — twice — in his sophomore campaign. The franchise’s lack of confidence in its young passer made drafting former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston a no-brainer in 2015.

Winston took the reins that fall, and Glennon has hardly been heard from on the field since.

So why is he able to command eight digits a year? He’s only 27 years old, has starting experience, and has posted a tidy 31:15 touchdown-to-interception ratio for his career. His 84.6 passer rating would have put him on par with Trevor Siemian and ahead of Super Bowl quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Cam Newton last year. Chicago’s three starting QBs — Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Barkley — combined for an 81.8 rating last fall.

If those numbers aren’t exactly convincing, just look at his competition on the market this offseason:

Brian Hoyer (signed with the 49ers)
Colin Kaepernick
Ryan Fitzpatrick
— Josh McCown
Case Keenum
Shaun Hill
Matt Schaub (re-signed with the Falcons)
Matt McGloin
— EJ Manuel
Matt Barkley (signed with 49ers)

Kaepernick is the only other reasonably young passer who is also a free agent this spring, and he’s just beginning to regain his value as a player after bottoming out in 2015. Veteran quarterbacks Tony Romo and Cutler are available now that their franchises no longer need them, but it’s tough to see either as more than an expensive stopgap solution.

Glennon, a young, strong-armed project, could be a turnover-limiting building block for a needy team. However, before teams buy into their game manager of the future, it’s prudent to take a look back at his past.

2008-2010: Early years at North Carolina State

Glennon, a 6’6 pocket passer, enrolled at NC State as the program’s top recruit after being dubbed a four-star prospect. He redshirted his first year on campus, then spent the next two backing up this guy:

Uh, the one in the back: Russell Wilson.

The Wolfpack staff was so confident in Glennon’s development, it allowed Wilson to leave the program to spend his senior season carrying Wisconsin to a Rose Bowl, though how exactly that went down is debatable.

2011-2012: Developing into a force

Wilson’s departure cleared a path for Glennon’s ascension to NC State’s starting role, and the gangly passer did not disappoint. He threw for more than 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2011 while leading the Wolfpack to an 8-5 record and a win in the Belk Bowl. His senior season was even better; he broke the 4,000 yard barrier during a seven-win campaign in Raleigh.

However, a few red flags persisted. Glennon’s completion percentage dipped to a career-low 58.5 percent as a senior. His yards-per-attempt number hit an all-time high, but at 7.1 yards, it was still unimpressive. Wilson, by comparison, averaged 8 yards per pass in 2008 and 10.3 in his breakthrough season with the Badgers.

Those concerns failed to stop Tampa Bay from making Glennon its quarterback of the future by selecting him with the 73rd pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

2013-2014: Earning, and then losing, a starting role in the NFL

Glennon made an immediate impact for a Buccaneers team streaking toward rock bottom. An 0-3 start in 2013 led the team to replace Josh Freeman behind center and insert the rookie in his place. He lost his first four games as growing pains set in, but he rebounded to lead the team to a 4-5 record to close out the season. He posted an 84.7 passer rating in that span but only threw for 180 yards per game as part of a conservative Tampa Bay offense.

Though the rookie showed signs of success, he did little to earn head coach Lovie Smith’s confidence. The Bucs brought in veteran McCown to usurp Glennon’s role. Though the second-year passer would earn a place in the spotlight when McCown missed five games due to injury, Smith deferred to his veteran rather than let Glennon learn on the job, referring to his young passer as the team’s “quarterback of the future.”

Glennon struggled, thanks in part to a lack of consistent playing time and an even bigger lack of offensive playmakers. His completion rate dropped and his interception rate rose as Tampa Bay sunk to 2-14 and earned the top pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

2015-present: Enigmatic backup

Despite claims Glennon was the future, the franchise couldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft Winston with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Like Glennon, Winston had only spent two seasons as a starter in the NCAA. Unlike the man he’d be replacing, Winston was a Heisman Trophy winner and national champion.

The Florida State product was put on the fast track, starting from Week 1 and gluing Glennon to the bench for the entirety of the 2015 campaign. Winston’s improvements in 2016 assured he’d be the face of the franchise. He threw for more than 4,000 yards that fall and has yet to miss a game in his budding pro career. With Glennon set to command a starter’s salary on the free-agent market, Tampa’s former cornerstone was a luxury the team could no longer afford.

That leads him to Chicago, where he’ll hope young wideouts like Cameron Meredith and Kevin White are ready to make the leap. The Bears added Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton to round out the receiving corps, so at least they’re making an effort to give their new starting quarterback some support.

Glennon will face a certain level of expectation after signing a $43.5 million contract with the Bears, but three decades of incompetent quarterback play will lower his standard for success. Step one is modest improvement — and after the club bottomed out at 3-13 last season, it shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.