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Don’t Blame Trubisky—It’s Pace’s Fault

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Somehow, in all the hand-wringing over Trubisky’s poor play, the same excuses keep being offered for Ryan Pace’s draft blunder.

Tennessee Titans v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The 2017 quarterback class was supposed to be full of duds. It was supposed to be the worst-possible year to draft a quarterback. Therefore, with Chicago’s luck being what Chicago’s luck always seems to be, it was the year that the Bears had the best draft position that they had seen in decades. What happened next will stand out as a franchise-defining move, and it is time to address the various efforts to defend Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Mitchell Trubisky.

I apologize in advance for the length of this piece, but many efforts have been made to exonerate Ryan Pace’s blunder, and they need to be dealt with. I also want to make clear that none of this is an indictment of Trubisky. The young man in question is clearly playing to the best of his ability, as unfortunate as that is, and he did not make Ryan Pace draft him. With that said, it should be obvious to everyone that drafting Trubisky has not worked out. In each of the two-and-a-half seasons since he was drafted, Trubisky has been worse than his two chief draft rivals (Mahomes and Watson) in DVOA and ANY/A.

Ryan Pace made one large mistake that can be broken down into many parts.

Part One: Background.

Section A. Free agency was a debacle. Prior to the draft, Ryan Pace signed Mike Glennon as the quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Mike Glennon then proved that he was, in fact, Mike Glennon. Ryan Pace could have held onto his existing quarterback, he could have signed a clear placeholder, or he could have pursued a high-priced free agent. What he ultimately did was sign Mike Glennon. One argument suggests that Pace signed Glennon as a smokescreen to throw teams off the scent. If so, it was a poor maneuver, because Pace still ended up having to pay full value to move up (see below). Not paying that value, and not having the deception of Mike Glennon, would have meant--at worst--that the Bears would have had to take the least of Watson, Mahomes, or Trubisky. So, you know, Trubisky.

Another defense of the Glennon signing is that he was signed as a bridge for the inexperienced star-in-the-making. Glennon was supposed to afford Trubisky the chance to develop for a year, because Mitchell lacked experience. If this was the intent, it was a poor maneuver because Glennon was so incompetent in the role of bridge that his inadequacies forced the Bears to play Trubisky early. Trubisky therefore did not get the chance to develop.

A hybrid of these two (he was a smokescreen who could also serve as a bridge) actually bites into both of the poison apples laid out above. The only way to justify the Glennon signing, at all, is if he was signed because Pace truly wanted Mike Glennon as the quarterback of the Bears for either a partial or complete season. Every version of the Glennon signing represents a complete inability to evaluate quarterbacks.

Section B. The trade was a pointless expense. Ryan Pace traded three additional draft picks in order to move up one spot in order to take Mitchell Trubisky. The trade itself was almost exactly textbook value, which is to say that Pace paid a premium “in order to get his guy,” because that’s what it costs to move up in the NFL. To be clear, had Pace not moved at all and had both teams in front of him drafted Mahomes and Watson, the worst he could have ended up with by not moving up was the quarterback he actually wanted and received. Had he been “scooped” by another team for Trubisky, he would have had to “settle” for Mahomes or Watson. The trade, in retrospect, wasted draft capital. However, the trade itself is not the issue here. It is simply used to frame the conversation--this is not a decision that was forced on Pace. It was a decision he had total control over, and he exerted that control.

In short, the entirety of the background to the 2017 draft represents that Pace had set the stage for his own failure.

Part Two: The Selection Itself

Section A. The state of the team does not defend Pace from Trubisky’s early failings. Some defenders of the decision to draft Trubisky say that any player would have struggled on the Bears in 2017. In short, the 2017 Bears were apparently so bad that no quarterback would be able to thrive. Mahomes and Watson, it is said, went into much better situations. This is possibly true, even if it is worth pointing out that Pace had built much of the roster being criticized. However, forget that for the moment. If it is true that any quarterback would struggle with the 2017 roster, then why did Ryan Pace invest the future of the franchise in a quarterback if the team that quarterback was going to was going to be so inadequate?

If John Fox and the 2017 offense were so “bad” that even Mahomes or Watson would have failed, then why not trade down (other teams were supposedly knocking on the door) and pick up future picks, get additional talent for the team, and take someone in 2018? Surely a stronger team and a new head coach--brought on board after another struggling year, with the chance to consult on the new quarterback--would have been a better option.

Sometimes, this position is countered with the generic, catchall defense that “the time to get your guy is when he’s there.” However, the problem then becomes that “Pace’s guy” is objectively bad at the job he was drafted for. The only way this hybrid defense of Pace works is if Trubisky is a good enough player to overcome the adversity of his first year on a bad team and then to develop into a better player when the team around him improves. That did not happen. Therefore, the state of the team at the time of the 2017 draft shows Pace made at least some critical error in judgment, even if an individual fan wants to quibble over which error it was.

Section B. Changing systems only makes Pace’s decision-making look worse, not better. Other defenders of the decision to draft Trubisky say that Trubisky is struggling now because he was asked to change systems, and so he functionally had to relearn the offense. However, if this is true, it opens the door for three additional criticisms of Ryan Pace.

First, it means that Pace drafted a quarterback into a situation that was likely to change (because the Bears were already a struggling team with in inadequate offense) and therefore set up his own potential franchise quarterback for failure by making him experience the trauma of this change. Second, it could mean that Pace failed to see the change coming and thought he would be able to stay the course, even though as general manager, he is the one who actually forced the change that scarred his potential franchise quarterback. To say nothing of what this lack of foresight says about him, it represents a self-inflicted wound. Third, it is another sign that Pace failed to adequately time the decision to draft a quarterback so that it could coincide with the introduction of a functioning offense (e.g. he drafted too early, or he messed up with Glennon, or he should have had a different coach in place).

In other words, the change in systems was a foreseeable adversity, and Pace either drafted someone when he should not have or failed to protect the person he drafted from consequences of that decision.

Section C. Trubisky’s inexperience should have been considered. Absurdly, one defense used of the decision to draft Trubisky is that he does not have as much experience as Watson and Mahomes, and that he is going to need time. This “defense” basically suggests that it makes sense to draft a quarterback, burn the years of inexpensive rookie contract on developing him, and then be stuck to pay full market value for his newfound ability once he has been developed.

If Trubisky’s inexperience meant that he was going to need more than a single year to catch up with his chief rivals, then one of them should have been drafted instead (or Pace should have waited). If Trubisky’s inexperience meant that he was going to be unable to handle being drafted into a difficult offensive situation, or being drafted into a team that was going to see an offensive realignment, then (once again) drafting him was an error. When a GM chooses to draft a player with an obvious failing, then that GM is responsible for the consequences of that failing.

Part Three: The Execution

Section A. Firing one head coach and replacing him with another does not excuse the decision. This has been covered elsewhere, but it deserves attention as a specific point. If Trubisky is struggling because he was drafted into one offensive system (Foxball) and moved into another (Nagyball), then the question becomes “who drafted Trubisky onto a failing team and then fired the coach in a foreseeable turn of events” or “who drafted a quarterback before he had the coach who would coordinate the offense on staff”? Both answers are Ryan Pace, and so again the execution of the Trubisky draft represents a failure on the part of the general manager.

Section B. Going all-in defies one of the only strengths Pace has. The one thing Ryan Pace has reliably done since arriving in Chicago is invest in a position multiple ways. He drafted Anthony Miller but signed Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson. He uses a combination of free agency and draft picks to saturate positions and to see what comes to the top. This is hard to do with quarterbacks, because someone needs to get reps, and with an inexperienced, slow-to-develop quarterback, that’s going to be the starter. However, the second team gets reps, too. At no point since the Mike Glennon fiasco has there been serious competition for the position. Pace has therefore left himself no “outs” if--as is currently happening--the Trubisky draft should turn out to be a failure.

Conclusion

Ryan Pace mismanaged the free agency leading up to the draft and the draft day management of the selection. The available defenses of who he picked suggest an inability to evaluate the team, the ability of his chosen quarterback, or both. The available justifications for Trubisky’s past and current struggles ultimately blame the roster Pace constructed, the coaches Pace selected, or Pace’s management of the same.

Mitchell Trubisky seems to be a good kid, and he seems to be trying his best. It’s not his fault Pace never should have drafted him.