It still seems like yesterday when Ryan Pace took over as the Bears’ GM in 2015. With him still being the youngest GM in the entire NFL, people have naturally expected plenty of changes to be made with the league’s founding franchise. His original plan, was to entrust a swift rebuild in the hands of the veteran coach, John Fox.
As we would say in the military, “everyone has a plan, until the first bullet is shot.”
Three years later, and Ryan Pace has made changes to his coaching staff. Out with the grizzled John Fox, and in with the young Matt Nagy. And yet, the changes don’t stop there. The strength and conditioning staff, led by Jason George, has been relieved of their duties. Halas Hall itself is about to undergo a massive expansion, which is to begin in March of 2018. With all these changes set to take place, one has to wonder what he has in store for the near future.
With such a large amount of changes being made to the coaching staff and the actual structure of the franchise, more will be made in the upcoming free agency and draft periods.
This is no longer a team led by a veteran QB in Jay Cutler. This, quite frankly, isn’t your papa’s bears. For the first time in many years, a young hand-picked franchise QB in Mitchell Trubisky is at the helm. And, with that critical component in place, comes the responsibility of developing both him as well as the rest of the young talent. There too, shall be changes in Pace’s overall approach towards roster management.
Being More Proactive in Retaining Valuable Veterans
Last offseason showcased a battle between Alshon Jeffery and his agent, versus the Bears’ front office. Some would suggest that Jeffery never intended to stay, while others would believe the offer simply wasn’t good enough. In today’s press conference, Vic Fangio made an interesting statement in saying that the Bears’ players still have room to grow. He also believes that the focus should be on developing the current corps, and not simply adding new players.
Having this perspective in mind, there is one player that comes to everyone’s mind: Kyle Fuller. Yes, he didn’t lead the NFL in interceptions by a long shot — he recorded just two this season — yet he proved himself a valuable DB all season long. He recorded 22 pass deflections, along with 69 tackles. This was his second full season under Fangio’s schemes, and he showed a great amount of growth. I expect for Pace to attempt locking down Fuller before free agency begins.
Kendall Wright could also be an option to bring back, as he was the Bears’ leading receiver in both yards and receptions. His chemistry with Trubisky would be a great building block moving forward, and Dontrelle Inman is worth consideration for the same reason. Still, a ton of new players are to be added into the receiving corps, along with a few other positions of need.
Being More Aggressive with Top Targets in Free Agency
This will undoubtedly be the area that Pace and Co. will look to improve their approach the most. His first three years in that regard, have yielded mixed results. For every hit in players like Akiem Hicks, Josh Sitton, and Danny Trevathan; there are misses like Mike Glennon, Markus Wheaton, and Antrel Rolle. The 2017 offseason in particular was a tremendous disappointment, with part of the problem being their fluid QB situation. According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, via 247 sports, veteran free agent targets accepted less money elsewhere.
“They went for some players last offseason and missed because when free agency opened, no one could say who the quarterback was going to be. Beyond that, it looked as if the head coach was heading into a win-or-else season. Kenny Stills and Ted Ginn Jr. took significantly less money to play elsewhere, and it’s hard to blame them. They’re far from top-tier receivers too.” - Brad Biggs
Luckily for them, their QB situation is much more firm. This will likely be a historic year in regards to the amount of activity with the QB position around the league. Additionally, given the wide amount of backgrounds within the Bears’ offensive staff, they’re likely not going to exclude themselves from any particular players. It will be on the Bears’ front office to strike the iron while it is hot.
Their cap space is currently projected at the amount of $41.6 million, and they have the capability of nearly doubling that amount. Money won’t be an issue; they will be able to land virtually any player(s) they could possibly want. Given their acute needs at receiver, D-line, and OLB among others, look for Ryan Pace to be active in those markets. If he’s not able to fill all his needs in free agency, then he still has seven draft picks in his inventory.
Maintaining Consistency in the Draft
Since 2015, Ryan Pace has made a trade every year during the NFL’s annual draft. In the past two consecutive years, Pace successfully traded up in the first round of the draft to land players he had ranked at the top of his list. With that said, this year’s draft offers a vast amount of depth in the later rounds. Plus, he is still a draft-oriented manager, he’s going to look at accumulating all the young talent he can muster.
It is quite possible he will look to trade down from 8th overall, or stay put if the right player is available. Because of the attention on QBs from around the league, Pace can use this draft to his advantage, and make various trade possibilities tangible. Teams looking for QBs who draft later in the first round, like the Bills and the Jaguars, could offer a bounty if their efforts were unsuccessful in free agency. At least, provided their target is available.
It won’t just be the draft where his aggressiveness will come into play. Recently, the Bears have hit on a few undrafted free agent signings, including Christian Jones and Cameron Meredith. Look for him to bring in a ton of rookies to their annual camp in Lake Forest, and don’t be surprised if a handful of them land on the initial 53-man roster.
In summary, it is to be expected that most of the focus will still be on developing a young roster. However, with Ryan Pace now on his second coaching staff, he also knows that he must build a winner. Fast. Time will tell how successful he is; but rest assure, he’s going to do everything he feels necessary to bring the Bears back to prominence.