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A banana for a snack pack: Ryan Pace built his Bears with trades

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The Bears general manager has long maintained how important it is to build through the draft. He’s never emphasized his greater focus: trading.

Chicago Tribune

In the Adam Sandler classic Billy Madison, the title character man-child has an obsession with snack packs: basic, processed chocolate pudding. Madison gets angry when it’s not included in his school lunch, and in one of the most famous ensuing scenes he tries to trade the banana he had packed instead for a snack pack with a child in the cafeteria. He, of course, fails miserably. But not for a lack of effort in trying to make the trade by threatening to bully the kid and being as persistent as possible.

If there’s one perfect analogy for Ryan Pace in his tenure as Bears general manager, it’s Madison in that specific sequence.

The Bears roster has been completely overhauled since Pace took over as personnel lead in 2015 and he’s done it on the strength of trade after trade (quality to still be determined for some). In that time, he’s continually insisted on trading bananas for snack packs: sometimes actually being the one that holds the snack pack and getting away with a bounty.

What Pace has shown is that he’s not afraid to force the issue and use draft capital to either go get players he likes for the Bears, or trade down and accumulate more assets to use in future moves.

Yes, there have been the occasional small trades, general draft selections, and free agency signings to note across the board. But much of the Bears’ core and depth was built on Pace’s willingness to barter and put himself out there anyway, without fear of being second-guessed. Without fear of being hamstrung by other Bears leadership.

“This doesn’t come around that often,” said Pace of having the opportunity to trade for Khalil Mack this past weekend. “When it does come around, I’m proud I work for an organization that’s willing to be aggressive at these times.”

The trade for Mack over the weekend is the most noteworthy and it’s also just the latest example. Let’s examine the laundry list of 10 incremental deals Pace has made since taking the Bears’ mantle.

March 2015

Trade 1: Brandon Marshall and a 2015 seventh-round draft pick to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
A deal out in the open that brought Amos to Chicago.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

End result: That fifth-round pick (No. 142 overall) would later be used to draft Adrian Amos in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Summary: Pace was roundly criticized for trading a player like Marshall with 31 touchdowns in three seasons as a Bear. Many wondered when the Bears would be able to replicate that offensive production. For the most part since, they’ve still struggled to do so. But he didn’t let the return on Marshall go to waste as it netted Chicago one of the more solid safeties in the NFL in Amos. Amos isn’t in Chicago without the Marshall trade. A nice consolation prize years later.

April 2016

Trade 2: The Bears’ No. 11 overall pick and a 2016 fourth-rounder to the Buccaneers for the No. 9 overall pick.

Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears
The first instance where Pace showed he wasn’t afraid to go get his guy in Floyd.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

End result: Chicago would use the selection to move up past the Giants for Leonard Floyd.

Summary: Everyone thinks of a certain trade up for a quarterback when it comes to Pace, and rightfully so. The first major move up he made for a player he believed to be a franchise player was actually Floyd. And unlike with that quarterback deal, there’s tangible proof the Bears were in danger of losing Floyd to New York if Pace didn’t pull the trigger. It goes to show you that when you love a guy in the draft process, chances are you can’t sit on your hands if you want him on your roster.

Trade 3: The Bears’ 2016 No. 41 overall pick to the Bills for No. 49 overall, a 2016 fourth-rounder (No. 117), and a 2017 fourth-round pick.

End result: This deal was more about recouping assets with a draft trade down after getting Floyd, rather than making a direct swipe for a player. About laying the groundwork for a move to be made a little later in the 2016 draft, and one in the 2017 NFL Draft. Don’t forget about that latter fourth-rounder.

Summary: The first case of Pace trading down to get lost assets back with fancy draft finagling.

Trade 4: The Bears’ No. 49 overall pick from Buffalo to the Seahawks for the No. 56 overall pick and the No. 124 overall pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Chicago Bears
A nice haul and trade down to get Whitehair for Pace.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

End result: Chicago used the No. 56 overall and the No. 124 overall picks they received from Seattle to draft Cody Whitehair and Deon Bush, respectively.

Summary: The absolute best case scenario when trading down is getting an immediate impact player near the top of your evaluative board anyway, while setting up trade chips for the future. That’s multiplied when you trade down twice. Pace accomplished this by acquiring Whitehair, the Bears’ current starting center, getting Chicago’s swing man safety in Bush, and keeping another future Day 3 selection. A textbook on how to wheel and deal.

Trade 5: The Bears’ No. 117 overall pick (from Buffalo) and the No. 206 overall pick to the Rams for the No. 113 overall pick.

Cleveland Browns v Chicago Bears
More depth acquired through smart trading.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

End result: Pace wasn’t done trading up as he saw the chance to leap up and draft Nick Kwiatkoski with Los Angeles’ selection.

Summary: No one will confuse Kwiatkoski for an elite linebacker. But he is nice piece to have as a fill-in should anything happen to Roquan Smith or Danny Trevathan. You’ll take that depth from a fourth-rounder every time. One of the better backup linebackers in the league isn’t in Chicago without more aggressiveness from Pace.

April 2017

Trade 6: The Bears’ No. 3 overall, No. 67 overall, and No. 111 overall picks, as well as a 2018 third-rounder to the 49ers for the No. 2 overall pick.

2017 NFL Draft
One of more famous draft trades in NFL history for sheer shock value.
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

End result: Pace gets his offensive face of the franchise, Mitchell Trubisky.

Summary: Of each of these trades, this is one of the two major deals Pace will be remembered for most. No one expected the Bears to move up for Trubisky, yet there they were getting the former North Carolina star. There isn’t necessarily tangible proof that the Bears were in danger of losing the quarterback had they stayed at No. 3 overall. The fear and underlying sentiment was enough in itself to not risk losing a player Pace was enamored with. Yet again an example of taking matters into your own hands in the lottery known as the draft.

Trade 7: The Bears’ No. 36 overall pick to the Cardinals for the No. 45 overall, No. 119 overall, and No. 197 overall picks, as well as a 2018 fourth-rounder.

Chicago Bears v Cincinnati Bengals
Once again, it was time to get draft capital back in the form of a big tight end.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

End result: Giving up the immense haul that the Bears did for Trubisky meant Pace had to once more trade down and try and get some selections back for a still-rebuilding team. One of the selections would be used on Adam Shaheen, who figures to be a major part of Chicago’s 2018 offense once he returns from injured reserve in two months.

Summary: If you’re going to be bold and go for broke by moving up for a player you like, you have to be prepared to lose the primary talent you might prefer at your second-round slot. For the second time in as many years, Pace showed he was willing to move down his board and get a foundational piece he liked such as Shaheen after having the audacity to draft Trubisky. Someone will always want to make a deal in the NFL. You just have to make yourself available.

Trade 8: The Bears’ No. 117 overall pick (from the Bills in 2016) and the No. 197 overall pick to the Rams for the No. 112 overall pick.

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears
Jackson isn’t in Chicago without a trade the year before.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

End result: If not for a broken leg suffered in October 2016, Eddie Jackson isn’t sitting in the fourth round of the 2017 draft painstakingly waiting to get selected. The Bears capitalized on this lucky break and quickly used their prior draft asset from trading down the year before to get their free safety of the future.

Summary: You might think of many fourth-round and fifth-round picks thrown into deals as sweeteners and as essentially meaningless. You might be right. Sometimes they’re valuable trade chips for potential moves down the line, though. When the Bears traded down in 2016, they planted the seed for what would eventually become the ballhawk in Jackson: one of their brightest young players. That is both fortune and planning ahead by Pace should the cards fall right. Always be prepared for any situation.

Trade 9: The Bears’ No. 105 overall pick and a 2019 second-round pick to the Patriots for the No. 51 overall pick.

Marmot Boca Raton Bowl - Memphis v Western Kentucky
To get a playmaker, you have to go and get him like he goes and gets the football.
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

End result: After losing Cameron Meredith, the Bears still needed another weapon for Trubisky offensively. That came in the form of Anthony Miller, a player Pace and company were enthralled by the potential he presents.

Summary: The self-proclaimed best receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft in Miller is one of the most pro-ready receivers to jump into the NFL in years. That’s the kind of player worth trading up for if it helps complete your offense. Pace noted Sunday how he actually sees Miller as his second-round pick in 2019 with this specific trade in mind. A compelling argument for efficient use of draft capital on polished players.

Trade 10: The Bears’ 2019 and 2020 first-round picks, a 2020 third-round pick, and a 2019 sixth-round pick for former Raider Khalil Mack, and a 2020 second-round pick.

San Diego Chargers v Oakland Raiders
The feather in Pace’s cap, Mack.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

End result: The Bears acquired arguably the NFL’s most complete edge defender in Mack, completing their rising defense. The definition of a win-now move.

Summary: Of every trade Pace has made for the Bears, going out and snatching Mack away was his coup de grâce. No one knows what the Raiders will end up with their high picks from Chicago, but it’s very likely going to be no one close to the same level of play as Mack. Teams spend a lot of time and money just to have a chance to draft players like Mack year in and year out, failing again and again. Any time an organization trades a generational player like Mack, they’re losing. Any time an organization acquires a generational player like Mack, they’re winning.

Getting Mack and finishing his Bears defense is the most assertive Pace has been yet. And it’s an overall representation of the lengthy portfolio of a man not afraid to make the best effort for improvement. If that means risking assets down the line, so be it. If that means taking initial criticism, so be it. Pace has the Bears primed to go because he keeps asking for a snack pack with a banana.

Robert is an editor, writer, and producer for Windy City Gridiron, The Rock River Times, The Athletic Chicago, and a host of other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski and reach him by email at robertpoduski@gmail.com.