Ryan Pace has left Bears fans a little conflicted. On the one hand, some of his moves have turned out to be fine (for example, letting go Matt Forte, whose production did take a bit of a nosedive). However, other moves have been less well-received (like over-drafting developmental players a la Kevin White). In the barely-lamented Jerry Angelo days, the franchise had five winning seasons, five losing seasons, and a single break-even season. Since that time, the franchise’s only winning season came the year after Jerry left. By at least a couple of measures, the Bears are fighting to get back to mediocrity.
This should be a good year to get back on track. In addition to a good draft position, Pace has a phenomenal war chest to spend on players. Spending money on a player doesn’t guarantee success (e.g. Albert Haynesworth), but saving cap room that is never actually spent is an easy way to plummet to the bottom. Here are four suggestions Ryan Pace should at least consider ahead of the draft.
This isn’t meant to be a snarky aside about hanging on to Cutler or mishandling the Alshon Jeffery situation. It is, however, a simple observation that if a team has talent that it knows it wants to keep around, a year like this when—when there’s plenty of cap room to go around—is a year to work out an extension or two.
Personally, I think that Alshon Jeffery is probably the 15th to 25th-best receiver in the league. He is a little Cutler-esque…he’s good enough to be afraid of not having him, but not so good that he obviously deserves top billing. That said, this team needs receiving talent and Alshon is in town. I’d like to see the Bears hang on to him. More importantly, though, I’d like to one or two players get new contracts (or extension) now, while the cap space is there.
Double-dipping on a position
Last year, Pace went out and found Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan to match at inside linebacker. Neither got a bank-breaking deal, but both ended up well-paid (8th and 14th in for their position, per Spotrac). Spotrac lists 20 free-agent tight ends under the age of 30. Pace should consider finding two that he likes (maybe one more established pro and one that is a little more developmental) and get out the checkbook.
Perhaps he doesn’t see tight ends he likes hitting the market this year. That’s fine—he can target two of the nearly 50 uner-28 defensive backs looking for a new contract this season. The Bears desperately need depth that one draft alone will not fix. Even if Pace overpays slightly (as he probably did for the Freeman-Trevathan pairing), it could be worth it to give him the freedom to simply fix a position by throwing cash at it.
Making a splash
If Pace doesn’t double-dip, then he needs to find a single player who patches a hole and he needs to simply commit to paying that player slightly above-market value. Fans will often point out that organizations like the Patriots manage to get players to take less money. They do, because those players just got a new piece of very significant jewelry.
The Bears have nothing to attract prospective stars besides dollar signs (if you don’t believe me, find me the numerous interviews where players in the league pine for the chance to be coached by John Fox while spending December on the shores of Lake Michigan and post the links below). Pace should seriously consider targeting elite talent and renting it for three to four years with a front-loaded contract.
Buying a draft pick
This is the least likely, and the hardest to see actually working out. Technically, a team cannot actually purchase a draft pick. However, a team can trade a player and a pick for another player. In this scenario, Pace finds a team that needs cap relief and offers to take an overpaid player off their hands, only with a catch.
Would Texans part with their first-round pick if it meant getting rid of Brock’s deal (and they got Cutler in exchange). The likelihood of anything like this actually happening is remote. It makes sense as a thought exercise, and it works for discussion boards and video games, but it probably won’t really happen. That said, I’d like to think that Pace at least has an intern exploring the option.
Those are the four “types” of moves I want to see out of Pace. I am deliberately leaving the specifics vague because the actual names matter less to me than does the simple fact that I want to see Pace working every possible angle to maximize the team’s chances to put together a winning season.