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Pace Makes It Hard to Find a Narrative

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Ryan Pace is receiving a lot of criticism, and much of it is “earned”—but not for the reasons people think. In order to explain why Pace is the subject of so much hostility, it’s necessary to take a step back in time.

In 2012, per Football Outsiders, the three worst-rated drafts in the NFL by teams with a full-ish slate of picks belonged to the Seattle Seahawks, the Denver Broncos, and the New York Jets. Admittedly, the Saints and the Raiders received worse net grades, but a lot of that was from the picks they didn’t have (remember Bounty Gate and the trade for Carson Palmer?) than it was for what they did with their live picks.

Why did these teams receive such criticism? Well, all of the experts Football Outsiders evaluated had different reasons, but there were trends. The Seahawks made the mistakes of drafting Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, and Russell Wilson, earning them a cumulative draft grade of 1.89 (that’s a D or D+, depending on your scale). Meanwhile, the Broncos (GPA 1.93) were fools for passing on Devon Still and Jerel Worthy in the first round; those two players have combined for 4 games started, 3 sacks, and 37 tackles over the last five years. Finally, the fool Jets (likewise with a GPA of 1.93) made one “good” selection, and that was Quinton Coples. That’s the same Coples who some Bears fans might know as perhaps the only DE taken in the first round of the 2012 draft who is not obviously better than Shea McClellin.

Meanwhile, some of us are still waiting on Mel Kiper’s retirement announcement.

The point of this is not to put some strange sort of spin on the Bears’ offseason and to claim that they are on the same path to success as the Seahawks—for one thing, the quarterback Pace selected is too tall for that. Instead, it is simply to point out that most draft experts and other such football gurus tend to judge football teams by whether or not those teams follow “the script,” not whether or not their moves make sense.

Consider the Beloved. In the first two months of 2017, the Bears were the subject of modest scrutiny by the football world. To be honest, the scrutiny was only modest because of how unimportant the Bears seemed. They were not the “new” and “interesting” Cleveland Browns, trying a novel technique to come back from ignominy, nor were they one of the perennial front-runners like the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos trying to force their way to the top with a minor change or two.

However, the football world had general agreement on what Chicago’s priorities should be. Foxsports, Bearswire, ProFootballRumors, CBS Sports, and ESPN all listed “quarterback” as the top need of the Bears. NFL.com originally listed quarterback as the top need, but after Pace signed Mike Glennon, other needs were allowed to replace that need.

Offseason Needs

Rank FoxSports ProFootball Rumors NFL.com CBS Sports Bearswire
Rank FoxSports ProFootball Rumors NFL.com CBS Sports Bearswire
1 QB QB TE* QB QB
2 CB Secondary OL CB Safety
3 OT WR DB Safety WR
Other WR, TE N/A N/A OT, TE N/A
*QB was originally the greatest need

Now, here are the Bears’ draft selections:

Pace’s Selections

Pick Selected
Pick Selected
1 QB
2 TE
3 Safety
4 RB
5 OL

So, the Bears needed help at quarterback, tight end, secondary, and offensive line. They probably needed help at wide receiver, as well. The Bears ended up drafting a quarterback, a tight end, a safety, an O-lineman, and a pass-catching running back. This was after a free agency marked by signing a quarterback, a tight end, several defensive backs, depth on the offensive line, and a couple of wide receivers.

Is Pace an idiot or what? I mean, he went out and addressed the needs of the team in free agency and in the draft…wait a minute…oh!

See, the script calls for signing high-priced free agents that a fanbase can feel good about, leading to a number of easy stories projecting a team turnaround. Then, those free agency signings are supposed to “set up” a perfect draft. Perfect, in this case, means a draft where the general manager selects players that fit the narrative. When talking heads claimed Glennon was a placeholder, at best, and Pace agreed with them, the talking heads were left with nothing to say. Obviously, Pace made a mistake.

Consider the narrative now surrounding Mitchell Trubisky. Before minicamp, he was an obvious project. He was going to need time to develop. Now, he needs to start as soon as possible. Why?

One reason is that it makes it much easier for the football experts to find something to talk about. Look, I’ve been critical of Pace around these parts. But…really? I would like to suggest that the reason Pace earns such criticism is not that his moves are bad (he treats a placeholder QB like a placeholder QB and drafts a QB when the team clearly needs one), but rather that his moves don’t follow the script. They don’t allow an easy narrative.

I do not know how his decisions are going to play out. However, I am going to read through the simple, breezy narratives surrounding the 2012 draft and remind myself of how little we really know.