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Traded Away—What Pace Gave Up (the early years)

Ryan Pace famously likes to make trades, and it’s conventional wisdom that trading up is a bad move in the long run. How much value, in terms of actual player performance, has Pace given away compared to what he received in his first three years as GM?

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears
This man has sacked Aaron Rodgers six times. That seems like it was worth trading up to get him.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Because it’s still too early to be drawing interesting conclusions about the season, this week seems like an excellent chance to look back on some of the prior decisions Ryan Pace has made in managing the Bears to date. Pace has a well-earned reputation as a GM who enjoys making trades, and it is tempting to play the might-have-been game when a GM makes dramatic moves. However, that’s not always a fair game. Few GMs ever make the ideal choice, and there is no real way of knowing how a player might have worked if chosen by a different team.

Still, it is possible to make a simple, bare-bones comparison as long as we understand that it is nothing more than a thought exercise. A “what if” in the world of football. What did happen to the picks Pace traded away? Not “who could he have picked with perfect hindsight?” Instead, “who was taken with the picks that originally belonged to the Bears?” Because it takes more than a year or two to evaluate draft picks, I will only be focusing on Pace’s first three drafts (2015, 2016, and 2017). I will only mention 2018 picks if they were part of trades from earlier years.

2015: Relative Silence

Starting in 2015, we have a strange phenomenon because the trades were largely already in place. For example, Emery had traded away #143 (MyCole Pruitt) back in 2014, and so that was simply one less piece for Pace to work with. The only real trade that Ryan Pace had a say in was dealing pick #224 (Bryce Hager) and Brandon Marshall in exchange for pick #142 (Adrian Amos). Hager has started four games and played in more than sixty, but he has been a functional piece at best. He was a good find for a 7th-round pick, sure, but fans should not be lamenting the fact that the Bears missed out on drafting him.

I am not always a believer in Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric, because it’s a little broad for my liking, but a number of other analytic tools—like Chase Stuart’s analytics-heavy draft value chart—are built on it. Therefore, it’s worth mentioning here that from the perspective of this one measure, the Jets received 23 points of value from this trade (mostly from their first year with Marshall), while the Bears received 21 points of value from Amos.

2016: The Shape of Things to Come

Things get really exciting in 2016. First, there is the simple matter of the trade for Leonard Floyd. Floyd was exchanged for a pair of picks that would go on to become Vernon Hargreaves and Eric Murray. It’s a little strange that both were drafted as corners, but it’s more interesting that if you add together Hargreaves and Murray, the injury-prone Floyd still has one more start, another 50% more career AV per Pro Football Reference, and just as many defensive touchdowns.

The second trade is harder to track, because there ended up being a number of moving pieces. The Bears traded away #41 (Reggie Ragland) and #206 (Mike Thomas) and picked up a number of picks. These picks got swapped around a number of times, and the Bears briefly held #117 (Pharoh Cooper!), before ending up with a mix of picks that resulted in Cody Whitehair (#56), Nick Kwiatkowski (#113), Deon Bush (#124), and a future fourth round pick.

This one trade, right here, is basically the anecdotal argument in favor of trading down. Ragland has a career AV of 11, with 130 tackles in 29 games, an interception, a defensed pass, a forced fumble, a half-sack, a quarterback hit, and six tackles for a loss. Kwiatkowski by himself has an AV of 10, with 103 tackles in 44 games, four defenses passes, three forced fumbles, three sacks, five quarterback hits, and five tackles for a loss. That makes the production gained from Cody Whitehair basically “extra” on this trade if we treat Mike Thomas and Deon Bush as more or less equivalent “just a guy” players.

And then there’s that future fourth-rounder. I cover it below. However, the picks from 2016 alone seem to skew this trade heavily in Ryan Pace’s favor, and Approximate Value agrees (25 given up vs 36 gained).

2017: Trubisky and Company

The 2017 draft saw Pace make a number of trades, and the biggest trade still has reverberations through the Bears and the NFL. However, regardless of who was passed up and who was taken, here are the basics. The Bears traded up to draft Mitchell Trubisky. To do this, they used pick #3 (Solomon Thomas), pick #67 (Alvin Kamara), and pick #111 (Tedric Thompson), plus the future third-rounder that would be turned into Fred Warner. It’s interesting that the 49ers dealt away the other 2017 picks they received, but that is a fairly common trend. Once a pick is moved, it has a high likelihood of being moved again.

Rather than rehashing the Trubisky debate another time, it’s worth exploring the other trades from this draft. Pace traded away #36 (Budda Baker) and #221 (Shalom Luani), picking up in exchange #45 (Adam Shaheen), #119 (Tarik Cohen), #197, and a 2018 fourth-rounder (Joel Iyieubuniwe). For those who might feel a sting over missing out on Baker, it’s worth remembering that fourth-rounder gained in 2016. It was added to #197 (gained from trading down out of the “Baker” slot) to move up a few spots so the Bears could draft future All-Pro Eddie Jackson.

For completeness sake, I also need to point out that the Bears traded away #188 (Elijah McGuire) in order to gain the very temporary services of Khari Lee. That makes 2017 the first year that Pace significantly “fell behind” in approximate value, and it’s by a considerable degree (76 given away vs. 58 received).

This is what the entire set of exchanges looks like:

Pace’s Early Trades

Traded Away Received
Traded Away Received
2015 (#224) Bryce Hager + Brandon Marshall 2015 (#142) Adrian Amos
2016 (#11) Vernon Hargreaves 2016 (#9) Leonard Floyd
2016 (#106) Eric Murray 2016 (#56) Cody Whitehair
2016 (#41) Reggie Ragland 2016 (#113) Nick Kwiatkoski
2016 (#206) Mike Thomas 2016 (#124) Deon Bush
2017 (#3) Solomon Thomas 2017 (#2) Mitchell Trubisky
2017 (#36) Budda Baker 2017 (#45) Adam Shaheen
2017 (#67) Alvin Kamara 2017 (#112) Eddie Jackson
2017 (#111) Tedric Thompson 2017 (#119) Tarik Cohen
2017 (#188) Elijah McGuire 2018 (#115) Joel Iyiegbuniwe
2017 (#221) Shalom Luani UDFA Khari Lee
2018 (#70) Fred Warner

For those who do believe in Pro Football Reference’s Average Value metric, Pace traded away a total realized value of 124 in exchange for an actual value of 135. What I find interesting about this is that—as I mentioned—Chase Stuart’s draft value chart is based on AV, and that chart is usually Exhibit A for the argument that trading down is king. For Ryan Pace, who likes trading up, to have actually earned more value than he traded away is somewhat surprising. It’s especially surprising when his 2017 draft trades involved “missing out” on a pair of star players like Baker and Kamara while drafting relative duds like Adam Shaheen, but it is less surprising when remembering that most of his value advantage came from key trades down in order to gain the flexibility needed to move up strategically. It actually suggests that Pace is trading well, and he is mitigating the risk of his strategy better than it might seem.