Dropping to 0-3 in the preseason is not much cause for concern, on its own. The problem is that Bears fans do not have a lot reason to think that this team is going to magically become something more once the games start to count. These losses have been more than disheartening. They've continued a trend.
The 2010 season marked the last time the Chicago Bears made the playoffs. In fact, twenty-two teams in the NFL have been to the post-season more recently than the Bears, including every team in the NFC North. That sort of drought is going to make any fanbase anxious. It is fair for fans to wonder if the team has the right leadership. After the disaster that was the last front office, this community has been filled with discussion about whether or not Pace is doing a good job, and whether or not he's making the right decisions.
The real evidence will be in the team's play on the field, of course, and so it's time to consider what sort of evidence might be used to evaluate Pace's job performance so far. Let's begin by looking at what does not provide meaningful evidence of Pace's ability.
First, Pace cannot reasonably be judged on how the rest of the NFC North does. Imagine for the moment that two other teams in the NFC North manage to go 13-3, but that the Bears win the four games they have against those teams (please note that this is a thought exercise, not an indication that I think this scenario is likely). This would not be Pace's fault. He has no control over the rest of the division, except insofar as the other teams in the division play the Bears twice apiece. How well the Packers or the Lions play does not tell us whether or not Pace is the right general manager to take the Bears through their rebuild.
Second, if we are being reasonable, we will not judge Pace on how former Bears perform on other teams. This is tough for me to admit, because I continue to question the decision to let Forte walk without so much as an offer. However, even if Forte lights it up in New York, that is not an indication that he would have done the same here. If Bennett—in New England, with Brady passing him the ball and Belichick running the team—has a great year, that doesn't tell me very much about how he would have done in Navy and Orange. I am not saying that we cannot evaluate Pace on whether or not one of his moves left a glaring need somewhere. However, I am saying that if Jimmy Clausen somehow rehabilitates his career in Arizona, that doesn't mean Pace made some sort of error in letting him go.
Finally, Pace is not fully responsible for the quarterback situation. Until Saturday, I had this split into two categories, one on either side. I felt that it would be fair to judge Pace by the quality of backups he put in place, because building a complete roster is his responsibility, and because any competent GM would expect Cutler to spend some time out of the game. However, I now feel like I have to give Pace a pass on this one. He had what was at the very least a competent starter signed when he got here, and this offseason he found a veteran backup to provide relief and a developing player to add depth. In my other life I'm a teacher, and I'd have to give Pace an Incomplete grade on his quarterback management—there's just too much we won't be able to tell about his judgment on this one.
So, if I don't think that those are fair ways to judge Pace, what will I be looking at?
First, the offensive line. Pace has brought in players and let other players go. He invested in Bobby Massie and he has spent two of his top six draft picks on the offensive line. This was clearly one of his priorities. Injuries and retirements have weakened the corps he was trying to build, but if the team doesn't have at least an adequate offensive line this season, I will have some real concerns about Pace's ability to work the tools available to him.
Second, I want to see the run defense improve. Pace adopted a seemingly wise strategy of bringing in multiple players for moderate salaries as a means of improving the team (as opposed to trying to land a super star). Two of those players were Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. He brought in Akiem Hicks. These seem like good moves. However, if teams continue to run on the Bears at will, then it will be a sign that something has gone wrong with the rebuild.
Most importantly, I am going to be looking at last year's draft class. I am not a believer in Kevin White. I didn't think he was worth the #7 pick in the draft, and nothing from this preseason has me thinking that I was wrong in that assessment. The draft capital invested in White is equal to the value of Leonard Floyd and a late third-rounder put together. White lost a year, but I need to see something from him that tells me I'm wrong about him. He does not need to be the second coming of Calvin Johnson. He does need to show the sort of flash that a first-year wide receiver is capable of putting out there. However, a draft is more than the first-round selection. Eddie Goldman, Jeremy Langford, and Adrian Amos will all be in the second year of their careers. If these players don't step up, then I will begin to really question whether or not Pace can put this team back into contention.
Those are my lists. Sound off below on what you think are and are not fair grounds for criticism when it comes to Pace this upcoming season.