Citing the need to increase efficiency in a worsening economy, Bears management Wednesday announced an internal restructuring that will eliminate 19 staff positions, including the team’s three quarterbacks.

“Tough times call for tough choices,” said team president and CEO Ted Phillips in a statement. “Coach Lovie Smith has preached for years that we’re a running football team, so in this economic climate a passing game on top of that was a luxury we simply can’t afford.”

NFL franchises like the Redskins, Colts and Patriots already have announced layoffs this off-season, although the Bears are the first NFL team to eliminate player roster spots.

GM Jerry Angelo said the team hired an outside consulting firm to identify redundancies. Its report recommended sweeping job cuts across several departments, a drastic reduction of the luxury-box sales force, and the elimination of all three signal-callers.

“You look at what the Dolphins did this year with the Wildcat Formation,” Angelo said, citing Miami’s strategy of snapping the ball directly to a running back. “Some would argue that’s just some gimmicky trick play. But in ‘The Biz’ we call it a cost-effective management tactic.”

Angelo said he notified Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman, who have competed for the starting job each of the past four seasons, during “heartfelt, one-on-one meetings” at the team’s practice facility. Third-stringer Caleb Hanie was informed by an email from a human resources intern.

Several sources close to the organization assumed Grossman would leave the team via free agency this offseason, opening the door for the Bears to conserve resources by leaving his roster spot unfilled. But the decision to cut all three QB’s came as a surprise to many fellow players.

“Any time you lose employees it taxes everyone in your organization,” said Bears LB Brian Urlacher. “Then again, we’ve basically been playing without a quarterback since 1985, so I’m not sure this will be all that different.”

Angelo said he does not anticipate further layoffs this offseason, although he conceded he’ll be “reviewing the kickers closely” at training camp.

heckler editorial staff