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Don’t Panic: How Pace Can Reopen the “Window”

The Bears might be the most disappointing team in the NFL this year, but there is still a chance that the team can be relevant without the pain of a massive rebuild.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The term “window” is overused in professional football analysis. Fans and media wonks like to talk about how teams have a limited amount of time--a season or two--when everything can come together and a team has a shot at winning big. This sort of defies empirical evidence, because if windows are a thing, then the Patriots must have some sort of panoramic view one with a balcony overlooking the ocean.

No, the real issue is not that football teams have limited windows, it’s that football GMs limit themselves to a handful of the openings available. The NFL is built sliding-doors style, so that when one window closes another one opens. It takes a real fool not to find new opportunities, and that’s where NFL GMs step in. Mothers, addiction counselors, and marriage therapists all agree: one of the most important skills in life is being able to admit when you were wrong and being able to take steps to fix it. This is a skill that most GMs seem to lack.

Pace needs to admit that he was wrong. He needs to admit that after Glennon and Trubisky he has lost all right to claim he knows how to evaluate quarterbacks. With that out of the way, he needs to “retool” the Chicago Bears, not rebuild them. That retooling involves three steps.

Step One:

Pace needs to accept what the season is going to look like.

The Chicago Bears cannot afford to tank, nor can they afford to worry about the first-round pick that they do not have (the one that is going to the Raiders). Just as importantly, they are just good enough that true tanking is impossible. They will likely be mediocre. At best, they might end up 9-7 or 8-8, and something like 7-9 or 6-10 is certainly possible. Bear territory.

Matt Nagy should have the Bears try to win every game. However, Ryan Pace needs to have a secondary agenda. Matt Nagy now has eight preseason games of the best possible quality in front of him, and this time is going to play his starters and his backups in a reasonable rotation. Other teams are going to be hungry, plays are going to matter, and if everything goes right the Bears still have a chance to have a winning season, or at least a meaningful season wherein they play spoilers.

So, while Nagy focuses on Club Dub or whatever, Pace needs to understand that it’s time for him to be a professional personnel evaluator once more, this time focused on his own team. That leads to the second step.

Step Two:

Pace has to make decisions on borderline talent.

Pace has always insisted on retaining control of the 53-man roster, and so it’s time he ruthlessly uses that control. For example, there are basically two high-investment tight ends on the roster: Adam Shaheen (a second-round pick) and Trey Burton (a $32-million contract). Pace and Nagy need to decide which of them should stay. There are too many inside linebackers and not enough edge rushers. Pace needs to determine which inside linebackers they need and which they can do without, and he needs to let the older players go. This process needs to be repeated up and down the roster.

Some of this winnowing is about hoping for compensatory picks, but some of it is about developing new talent. This is not a fire sale. It is not throwing the season away. Once more, Nagy should keep coaching to win. It is Ryan Pace who needs to make these decisions, figuring out which players will be the basis of the retool and which will not.

If a player is not going to be on the roster in two years, then he should not be a priority next year. That is because the final step requires Pace to admit exactly how wrong he was about the biggest decision of his career.

Step Three:

Pace should go after three new quarterbacks.

The quarterback of the future is not on the Bears’ roster right now. Instead, there is a veteran quarterback who theoretically knows the system and is on a reasonably priced contract--Mitchell Trubisky. Should the actual starter get injured in 2020, Trubisky should be available to step in. However, he should no longer get #1 reps, and Pace needs to stop chasing the dream that he will ever be more than a cross between Tim Tebow and Blake Bortles.

Instead, Pace needs to spend the higher of his two second-round picks and take the best quarterback who falls to him. This is not the best quarterback as he sees it, but the best quarterback from the perspective of Nagy (who is going to need to run the offense) and from his other talent evaluators. It’s just Pace’s job to make the pick official, not to trust his own judgment.

While doing this, Pace should not and can not trade up; the draft trade credit card is maxed out, and it’s time to start being reasonable about purchases. For the next two years, there is going to be a good-to-great defense and some weapons on offense. The offensive line is actually okay, because most of its problems stem from compromises being made to protect Trubisky from his own slow, poor judgment.

After drafting a quarterback high, Pace needs to spend his last available pick on a quarterback, as well. Some guy that has a scout banging the table. Some guy who nobody else has given a chance despite having good numbers in college.

His third new quarterback? Anyone who has been around the league for a couple of years without getting a start. A guy who has had to practice reading NFL defenses and NFL playbooks just to earn a UDFA check.

With those three quarterbacks in place, Pace needs to commit to having a roster with Trubisky as his established backup and two other players ahead of him. Yes, that gives up a roster spot. This is the quarterback group. It’s okay.

Someone is getting cut. It’s okay.

What matters is that Pace needs to have an actual competition to find the two quarterbacks in the best possible position to execute the offense as it exists, under Matt Nagy. If that happens, then the offense should be able to take a step forward into the middle of the league and the team should be competitive again. The Bears should be back on-schedule when it comes to picks.

That’s it. Those three steps have the Bears playing interesting football this season, promising football next season, and competitive football in 2021 before the defense falls apart.

It’s not time for Chicago to panic, but it is time for them to open another window.