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Has Pace Improved the Roster?

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After three years, a GM needs to own the roster that has been assembled. Has Ryan Pace actually improved the Bears, or are they just treading water?

Denver Broncos v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When Ryan Pace took over the job of general manager for the Chicago Bears, he took over one of the worst teams in the NFL. However, he has now had three off-season cycles to rebuild the team into his image, and he has done so. For better or for worse, this is now his team. It is probably fair to stop blaming the shortcomings of the team on the prior administration and to admit that (given the length of an NFL career), the Bears’ strengths and weaknesses are his doing. Not many players remain from the 2014 squad, and even those who remain are not solely the responsibility of Phil Emery.

This is a point that is worth repeating. Ryan Pace has chosen to extend Long, Leno, McManis, Jones, and Young. In fact, the only player on the 53-man roster still on a contract provided by the former regime is 6th-round draft pick Pat O’Donnell. This roster—and its results—belong to Ryan Pace. Yes, it might have been nice if Emery had left more talent behind, but if he had done so then the job might not have been open in the first place. Obviously, the win-loss record will ultimately determine how good of a job Pace is doing, but simply comparing the rosters is a good place to start.

I looked at the 2014 Roster and then compared it to what we know of the 2017 roster so far. Holdovers are starred (again, with the caveat that Pace has still made his own decisions on most of them).

Quarterbacks

2014 Roster: Jay Cutler, Jimmy Clausen, and David Fales

2017 Roster: Mitchell Trubisky, Mile Glennon, and Marc Sanchez

Verdict: I’m probably one of the strongest Jay Cutler advocates left in these parts, but even I will state outright that if Mitchell Trubisky does not become a better quarterback than Cutler, then this rebuild has failed. As for the rest, Glennon and Sanchez are clearly superior to Clausen and Fales—even if that is more of an indictment of Clausen and Fales than praise for #8 and #6. This is improvement across the board. Better in 2017.

Running Backs

2014 Roster: Matt Forte, Shaun Draughn, Ka’Deem Carey, Senorise Perry

2017 Roster: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell

Verdict: Forte edges Howard, but then it’s a sweep for 2017. Cohen is obviously an improvement over the next-best back on the 2014 list (Carey?), and I’ll take Cunningham and Mizzell over the majesty of Draughn and Perry, if only because Mizzell (and Cohen, for that matter) adds back in the receiving dimension lost with Forte. Better in 2017.

Fullback

2014 Roster: Tony Fiametta

2017 Roster: Michael Burton

Verdict: Whatever. It’s a wasted roster spot either way. Push.

Wide Receiver

2014 Roster: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Marquess Wilson, Josh Morgan, Michael Spurlock, Santonio Holmes

2017 Roster: Kevin White, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Deonte Thompson, Josh Bellamy, Tre McBride

Verdict: Yeesh. Where to begin? I’ll call Marquess Wilson the Kevin White analog (an often-injured player with talent but precious little in the way of results), and then I’m trying to pretend that Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton belong in the same sentence as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Wait, they do, and it’s this sentence: “Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are clearly superior players to Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton.” Still, I’ll take Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy over 2014 Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan. Originally, there was no sixth receiver for the Bears in 2017, and that was a pretty good match for Michael Spurlock. Instead, Tre McBride is an unknown, but he could be good. The edge in talent here goes to 2014 without question, even if the depth of 2017 takes out some of the sting. Not really, though. Weaker in 2017.

Tight Ends

2014 Roster: Martellus Bennett, Dante Rosario, Matthew Mulligan

2017 Roster: Dion Sims, Zach Miller, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown

Verdict: Bennett is clearly better than Sims, even if Sims is better than expected. However, Miller and Shaheen are improvements over Rosario and Mulligan (actually, Miller and Brown are improvements over Rosario and Mulligan). For the sake of argument, let’s simply call Shaheen a developmental project and forget that he actually caught 75% of his targets in preseason and that he looked surprisingly good in blocking. Call Shaheen an empty roster spot since he has had the gall to drop passes from The Chosen One. As a group, the 2017 unit compared favorably to the 2014 group mostly on the basis of its depth and the weakness of the 2014 group. There is no one weapon like Bennett, but Sims and Miller together are probably of equal merit to Bennett and Mulligan. Push.

Offensive Line

2014 Roster: Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Michael Ola, Brian de la Puente, Charles Leno Jr.

2017 Roster: Bobby Massie, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long*, Charles Leno* Jr., Hroniss Grasu, Tom Compton, Bradley Sowell

Verdict: Massie is an improvement over Mills and Leno is better than Bushrod. Sitton is an improvement over Slauson, but 2017 Long is likely a shell of his 2014 self (yes, I realize that technically I should compare 2014 Long to 2017 Sitton and 2014 Slauson to 2017 Long, but this is already getting confusing). Whitehair is an improvement over Garza. For depth, I’ll take 2014 Leno over 2017 Grasu, but it’s pretty close. Overall, the 2017 line has more talent and better cohesiveness. Better in 2017.

Defensive Line

2014 Roster: Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Will Sutton, Ego Ferguson

2017 Roster: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Mitch Unrein, John Jenkins

Verdict: The different defensive alignments make this difficult, but Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman compare favorably to anyone on this list, and Jonathan Bullard and Ego Ferguson might as well cancel each other out. Arguably Robertson-Harris and Unrein add greater depth, but they are using an extra roster spot, so they should. Jenkins is another depth player, but having a fresh defensive line is not bad. Better in 2017.

Edge

2014 Roster: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Trevor Scott, David Bass, Cornelius Washington

2017 Roster: Leonard Floyd, Willie Young*, Sam Acho, Pernell McPhee

Verdict: Leonard Floyd is better than any of the 2014 contenders (let’s call it 2014 Jared Allen), but besides hoping that Pernell McPhee somehow stays healthy enough to match Lamarr Houston’s 8 games and 38% of defensive snaps, the best I have is Willie Young Might be equal to Willie Young and Sam Acho is probably the equal of one of those other guys. Of course, that leaves two depth players on the 2014 roster unaccounted for in this comparison, and no matter how fast he is, Floyd cannot play two positions at once. Weaker in 2017.

Linebacker

2014 Roster: Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin, Khaseem Greene, Christian Jones

2017 Roster: Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Nick Kwiatkoski, Christian Jones*

Verdict: Wow, did the line-backing corps in 2014 reek or what? I mean…let’s remember that this was “8 games and only 24 tackles” Lance Briggs and not the former great. Jon Bostic? Shea McClellin? This list made me a little sick to my stomach, bringing back memories of teams hanging 50 points on the Beloved. All four of the 2017 guys are better than their 2014 comparison points (I’m including comparing 2017 Jones to his inexperienced 2014 self), but depth is again an issue. Even with that loss of depth, I give a slight edge to the 2017 roster. Better in 2017.

Corners

2014 Roster: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kyle Fuller, Sherrick McManis, Demontre Hurst

2017 Roster: Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, Sherrick McManis*

Verdict: Tillman and Jennings put any two on the 2017 list to shame, and I don’t believe that 2017 McManis is a better corner than 2014 McManis. Kyle Fuller is better as a corner than his less-experienced self, but who knows what role his injury will play. Demontre Hurst feels like a push with Cre’Von LeBlanc, and Bryce Callahan does not make up the difference even if he claims an extra spot. Weaker in 2017.

Safety

2014 Roster: Ryan Mundy, Danny McCray, Brock Vereen, Chris Conte

2017 Roster: Quintin Demps, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Deon Bush

Verdict: And, looking at 2014 I just threw up a little in my mouth. Better in 2017.

Specialists

2014 Roster: Robbie Gould, Pat O’Donnell, Brandon Hartson

2017 Roster: Connor Barth, Pat O’Donnell*, Andrew DePaola

Verdict: The squad is weaker in 2017 by one Connor Barth.

Overall

2014 Roster: The last team Emery put together was probably stronger (in general terms) at Wide Receiver, Edge Rusher, Corner, and Specialists.

2017 Roster: The team assembled by Ryan Pace has improved (at least for the long term) in Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, and Safety.

Verdict: The reality is that the 2017 Bears are better than the 2014 Bears, at least in terms of the potential of their rosters. However, the team is not better in every way, nor are all of the improvements clear-cut and consistent upgrades.

As far as I am concerned, Pace has made real progress in the abstract. However, spreadsheets don’t take the field, and it’s time for the product on the field to start producing results.