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Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace, and the Gordian Goalpost

The Chicago Bears spent the offseason doing things a little differently, and that’s a good thing.

Dan Wiederer: Eight kickers tried The Cody Parkey at Bears rookie camp Friday. Six missed.
Does he seem focused? I think he’s focused.
Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

The Bears’ entered the off-season in a no-win scenario. No matter what they did with the placekicker situation, they were going to lose. If they had kept Cody Parkey, it would be viewed as the complacent move of a front office that was out of touch with reality. If they had tried to trade for Robbie Gould (and, let’s be honest, they might have done exactly that) told-you-sos would have flown over the fact that they were giving up assets to get back a player they had cut. Finally, had they simply tried out a couple of kickers at the position in the conventional manner, then people would have been convinced that they were not doing enough. In short, they had a number of options and all of them were open to armchair criticism.

Sometimes, an unsolvable problem reminds me of the legendary Gordian Knot, a trying together of ropes that defies conventional solutions. In legend, Alexander the Great solved the problem by cutting the knot. In other words, he invented a new solution. The Macedonian is typically praised for his out-of-the-box thinking, but not everyone is so lucky.

Trying something different is exactly what Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace attempted to do with the kicker situation. Instead of trying to solve problems in a manner endorsed by the status quo, they tried to innovate.

This angers many people. Kalyn Kahler recently wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated that is, in fact, a perfect exploration of how much people dislike it when people try new things. The introduction to the piece sets the stage:

Obsession! Conspiracy theories! Questionable Math! Welcome to the Bears kicker competition. Seven months after the ‘double-doink’ sunk their Super Bowl hopes, Chicago is obsessed with finding the right foot as pressure builds toward their next big kick. An inside look at the wildest kicker search ever held, from those who lived it.

You can tell how unbalanced Matt Nagy must be, because only 24 words into the article, forms of the verb to obsess are used twice! Wow! How obsessy! Are we sure Nagy is okay?

I always worry about drawing conclusions in a case like this. It’s obvious that a big part of Nagy’s “sin” is that he challenged How Things Are Done. He wanted a different multi-way competition, and the players and experts don’t like that sort of thing. The players and coaches quoted in the piece all seem to have various complaints that come down to “that’s not how I would do it.”

I did not interview everyone Kahler had access to. Maybe they said more than what is quoted, or maybe there really are good reasons why this different approach will fail. I admit that I have no access to whether what he did was actually that bad or if what he did was just different, because the opinions of disgruntled players who were not selected adds little insight. The opinion of other kickers and coaches who have accepted tradition does nothing to tell me if the tradition is a good one or if it’s just a bad habit acquired over years of unquestioning acceptance. Right now, it’s just a bunch of people complaining.

Let’s be clear, the NFL regulates a lot of things. Teams only get so many draft picks, and they can only spend so much money. They only get so many roster spots. The one thing that coaches and managers can expend in a functionally limitless manager is new ideas. They can try stuff. They can put more of their own effort into making the team better.

I’m not worried about Nagy obsessing over Parkey’s kick so long as he is controlling the other things under his control, as well. I’ll only worry about Nagy’s so-called obsession if he lets things slip because he’s playing the blame game or messing up his priorities. Nothing I’ve read suggests that Nagy is letting the offense get away from him, and nothing I’ve seen suggests that the defense isn’t getting coached. Instead, the Bears are just trying something new.

Somehow, people are still criticizing this. Let’s be real--at this point, Nagy has managed to prove that there was not a way to win. I credit him for trying, anyway. The new kicker might still miss a field goal or two. The reality is, at least the Bears tried to cut the knot instead of giving in to defeat.