Is your paper bag ready? Or perhaps, you might have a bottle of champagne in your hand?
Yes, the NFL Draft is here. The one time of year of late, that even the Chicago Bears have a sense of hope for the future. There’s a palpable nervous energy growing around these parts. And no doubt it’ll be tough to come to a consensus for many on no matter whom the Bears draft this coming weekend.
But if you talk to general manager Ryan Pace, oddly enough, he’s not worried or ready to succumb to the pressure, as he told reporters on Wednesday in a pre-draft presser.
“There’s a buzz throughout Halas Hall right now,” said the ever positive Pace.
That “buzz” is an organization confident they’ll nail the 2017 edition of their draft much like 2016 - which gave them the bright building blocks of Jordan Howard, Cody Whitehair, and Leonard Floyd.
It doesn’t concern the irreparable 2015 version - one which has an oft-injured first-round pick in Kevin White, a budding but not quite there yet, Eddie Goldman, and a host of other seemingly also-rans such as Jeremy Langford.
If the Bears are supposed to make a move towards relevancy, contention ... hey, let’s be generous, even mediocrity, their work this weekend has to inch much more towards last year’s draft success. The always energetic Pace will be “fired up about it” whatever he does either way, but you have to look past the earnest smiles and start seeing results.
“We have to string a bunch of good drafts together,” said Pace of building on last year. Well, if that isn’t the most obvious statement uttered concerning the Bears recently, I don’t know what is.
The Bears know it. Head coach John Fox knows it. And even Pace knows it even as he glows at cameras and reporters. For all of his confidence, he still understands the pressure of what nailing this draft will do for his regime - sink or swim.
And Pace understands this rare position he has to maximize on of who needs to be a franchise player at No. 3 overall.
“You feel the responsibility of picking so high,” Pace said.
What exactly is that responsibility? Well, this third overall pick is the highest the Bears have drafted since 2005, when they selected Texas’ Cedric Benson. A home run of a pick at the time. That uh, obviously didn’t work out. A Benson-level pick here would be disastrous.
A whiff here would ultimately end all of the conversation of a successful rebuild, and table it for the next general manager to have his model in place. Not ideal if you’re Pace. Not ideal if you’re anyone in Halas Hall with an investment. A reboot isn’t something anyone is seeking right now.
This No. 3 overall pick now is also the highest Chicago has selected in the last 45 years, and let’s just say the history of top Bears selections hasn’t always been great except for a select few. Adding to that history should be the goal. Going the ways of another injured commodity or good but not great player, isn’t enough.
Right now, it’s difficult not to picture Pace as the person going in for a job interview, doing deep breathing exercises, preparing for every contingency a hirer will have in place, while giving himself motivating speeches in the car mirror. It’s too easy to read.
But seeing where Pace sits, he should be comfortable, as it would be difficult to screw this up. He noted that he has “three names” that the Bears like. That’s barring any trade of course.
He can take the guy he believes to be a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson. Many don’t think Watson warrants a selection that high but the investment and risk-reward of his leadership and playmaking under center could be worth it for Pace. Watson in that ideal, feels like a “Pace pick”
He can take the stud, versatile safety in Jamal Adams and possibly pick the potential greatest safety the Bears would have ever had (hyperbole intended). A clean bill of health, a natural leader on defense, and an athletic freak. Adams feels like a “Pace pick.”
Perhaps, Solomon Thomas, a dynamic edge rusher that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can move all over his front and who possesses a huge ceiling, fits Pace’s fancy. A bit undersized for who will probably play as a five-technique right now, but a guy who nevertheless fits the athletic profile of what these Bears would love in due time. Thomas feels like a “Pace pick.”
Maybe, just maybe, Pace goes off the grid and trades down for more picks in a deep and talented draft class. A faster way to fill out his core as second-round selections could be equal to first-round talent in a regular year. Pace’s history dictates that we’ll likely see a first-round trade as he attempted unsuccessfully to trade up for the Titans’ Marcus Mariota in 2015, and traded up successfully for Floyd in 2016. Tonight could set the table with a bunch of unexpected talent coming in droves. A trade feels like a “Pace move.”
And even should Pace go off the grid completely, that’ll be okay too - provided said player contributes and blossoms properly, as he’ll no doubt be “fired up” about him. That’s probably the benefit to no one having any Earthly idea as to your actual plans. Any scenario you’ve thought of in your head, has no doubt crossed Pace’s mind as well.
Ultimately, whatever direction Pace and these Bears choose in the 2017 draft, there can be no more pitfalls. You can be assured no more smiles if there’s failure after this. But if it does work out, finally there’ll be a light to look forward to. Something for the Bears to believe in while all can stay patient. Real promise collectively, outside of individual flashes from players as this puzzle comes together.
“Everything’s on the table,” said Pace of what could happen in this draft.
Everything’s on the line too.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.