I tend to be critical of Ryan Pace, and I have to admit that I have the advantage of perspective. It is easy to focus on “successes” and “failures” as if they are the only two options. Sometimes, however, it is worthwhile to admit that there is a third category—the non-failure.
In poker, sometimes folding a hand is the best possible move. In football terms, sometimes the quarterback just needs to throw the ball away or take the sack instead of forcing something into tight coverage.
Therefore, in the spirit of honesty and fairness, I want to take a moment to highlight a few mistakes that Ryan Pace avoided when many people might have blundered. To be clear—this is not a sarcastic or snarky list. These are all moves that Ryan Pace might legitimately have made, yet he instead made a better decision.
#4). Laremy Tunsil
When draft night came around in 2016, the football world was treated to a bizarre sight. The potential #1 overall pick in the draft, an offensive tackle with amazing talent, was shown in a private video that...well...it wasn’t a good look for a soon-to-be NFL player. Laremy Tunsil plummeted, and a number of people thought Pace should have snagged him instead of going after Leonard Floyd. Apparently, though, the Bears were never even considering Tunsil.
Flash forward two years. Tunsil started at guard and moved back to tackle. At one point this season, he was the 47th tackle in the league per Pro Football Focus (Charles Leno was 15th and Bobbie Massie was 40th). Regardless of whether or not I trust Pro Football Focus, it is true that his play has been described as average, at best. Add in the fact that Tunsil leads the league in false start penalties (more than one every other game he plays, per NFLpenalties.com), and it’s obvious that Pace was right to spend his draft pick somewhere else.
#3). Martellus Bennett
Bennett is a solid player when he wants to be. The trouble, of course, is that he doesn’t always want to be. When Bennett started facing issues in the locker room, and when his play started to decline, Ryan Pace did not hold on to the player hoping he’d ride it out. Instead, he moved Bennett for what was, at the time, one of the most valuable recent trades for a player (getting what amounted to a late 4th-round pick out of a player on the last year of his contract).
Pace could have tried to hold on to Bennett, and he could have tried to force the player to settle his issues. Instead, he got the value that he could. Bennett played well for the Patriots (a lot of guys play well for the Patriots), but he has changed teams twice since that trade, and it’s doubtful that Bennett would have been a unifying force for the Chicago Bears.
The mistake in this case would have been insisting that he needed a player who clearly wasn’t going to contribute, even if he was capable of making those contributions when he felt like it. Some GMs might have tried to ride the contract out, trying to win a point based on ego. Instead, Pace cut his losses, picked up draft capital, and moved on.
#2) The 2016 Quarterbacks
Wentz and Goff were out of reach. Most pundits had Christian Hackenberg, Paxton Lynch, and Connor Cook as the rest of the top five. Dak Prescott was actually called “the most overrated” going into the draft. Even the team that drafted Prescott can’t claim to have done so with amazing foresight.
That means that if Pace would have tried to address the quarterback position a year earlier than he did, his actual choices were pretty thin. He didn’t force the issue, and he let other teams draft the leftovers.
#1) Jamal Adams
This is a tough one for me to admit because I was firmly in favor of the Bears drafting Adams in the first round. I didn’t like the quarterback options and I felt that Adams was the safety that the Bears desperately needed. I wanted Pace to simply take whatever quarterback happened to be left, maybe even trading back into the first round to do so. However, Pace read the situation better than I did.
Watson and Mahomes would have been gone, realistically, before the Bears could have traded back up to get them (even the bounty offered to move from #3 to #2 would fall short of the cost to go from #36 to #12). That would have left Kizer, Webb, or Peterman. Whether or not Trubisky ever becomes a franchise quarterback, it seems as certain as possible at this point that none of those three will make that leap (again, at this point). Perhaps more importantly, Pace found a safety to fill the gap in the Chicago defense, and he only had to send a fourth-round pick to do it.
Pace might have made mistakes, but he has also avoided these mistakes where and when a majority of the fanbase (myself included, sometimes) would have stumbled.