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Scrambling for a Quarterback: The Bears and the 2021 Draft

If history has taught fans anything about Ryan Pace, it’s that he really likes to make trades in the draft in order to be able to pick “his” players. How likely is it he’ll have the chance to pick a top quarterback?

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EDITOR: With so much buzz surrounding several teams’ willingness to trade back in the NFL Draft, we wanted to refresh and spotlight Josh’s updated article about what it would take for the Bears to move up from 20 to get their quarterback. He not only looks at scenarios for Ryan Pace to trade up for his guy, but he also does the math on what what Pace could acquire if he traded back to get his QB later.

March 18, 2021 - Neither Nick Foles nor Andy Dalton are long-term solutions at quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Honestly, they aren’t even short-term solutions to anything except in the technical sense that they are mediocrity dissolved in a semi-liquid substance. This probably means that the same guy who traded up for Trubisky, who gave up a draft pick for Nick Foles, and who brought in Mark Sanchez, Mike Glennon, Chase Daniel, and Tyler Bray as free agents is going to head into the draft looking for a quarterback.

What will he have to work with? Given Ryan Pace’s well-established tendency to move around in the draft, it seems worthwhile to establish the basic parameters of how much “ammunition” (to borrow his phrase) he has to move around. Most draft pick trades follow a value system that the various general managers in the NFL have agreed works, and while there are exceptions, they are very, very few.

For simplicity’s sake, I will default to the Jimmy Johnson chart because that seems to be the one Pace has used in more of his trades, but I will also look at the Rich Hill chart for context. The Chase Stuart chart is irrelevant, because nobody really uses it.

Remember that GMs value opportunity, so the opening five picks are heavily valued. Moving one spot from #3 to #2 costs 400 points, which is the same price it takes to move from eight spots from #18 to #10. Does this make sense? Only if you remember that GMs truly believe that they can beat the odds and find the best talent when given the chance. Hence, the first pick in the draft carries three times the value as the sixteenth pick in the draft.

Moving Up From #20

A Hop? The Cardinals seem to have their answers at quarterback, and moving up from #20 to #16 (hopping over Washington and one of Miami’s picks along the way) would basically cost Chicago its third-round pick this year, because that’s about how those six spots are valued by NFL GMs. That’s it. One mid-round pick. The 16th pick in the draft is only valued at 1000 points, whereas the 20th pick is valued at 850 points. The difference is 150 points, which is less than the third-rounder the Bears hold (#83, or 175 points).

However, there probably isn’t going to be much value in moving those four spots. All of the top quarterback prospects (Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, and Lance per our own Jacob Infante) have a very good chance of being gone before the midpoint of Round 1 is reached.

A Skip? The Cowboys also have their answer at quarterback, and so Pace might want to keep them on speed dial so he can skip over New England and San Francisco. The value of #10 is 1300 points, so if Pace wanted to move up to #10, he would need to come up with 450 points of value. That is more than the value of Chicago’s second-round pick (#52 at 380) or Chicago’s 2022 first-rounder (usually considered #48 at 420), but not by a lot.

Getting all the way to #10 would cost Chicago only one of either a future first rounder or its second-rounder, plus a late round pick (something in the fourth or fifth round, even though Bears don’t have a fourth-rounder at the moment). It shouldn’t take a ton of premium picks to make a move with Dallas. In order for it to make sense for the Bears to send #20, #52, and even next year’s second-rounder to Dallas, Pace would have to be overpaying by the full value of essentially the best fourth-round pick in the draft. In all of his trades, and there are many, he has never overpaid that badly.

Just to check, Rich Hill’s updated chart favors Chicago even more. In the “modern NFL” accounting, #20 is worth 269 points, whereas #10 is worth 369. The 100 points needed are actually less than the value of #52 (109 points), and substantially below the value of 2022s first-rounder (121 points). If the GMs involved are using Hill’s updated chart, this sort of maneuver would actually net the Bears a fifth- or sixth-round pick in exchange.

UPDATE: Supposedly the New York Giants (#11) are looking to trade back. This could mean that Jimmie Johnson-era math would have the Bears giving up #20, #52, and #165 in a slight overpay to take over New York’s spot. Rich Hill-era math has them able to make the deal with just #20 and #52, and even then they could expect back a pick (at least a fifth-rounder). Of course, that would still let anyone who trades with the Cowboys leapfrog them. Likewise, letting Philadelphia slide back again from #12 is a little cheaper, but with a caveat—the Bears could always try to use a player (like Nick Foles)—as a bargaining chip. Of course, the real issue here is how many teams would have a chance to get ahead of them.

Short form—Pace could very easily find himself in a position that if someone he covets is available after #9, he can move up and take that player without having to hinder his own 2021 draft significantly. This might not be enough to get him one of the top three quarterbacks in this draft, though. A number of projections have the best three passers going with the top six selections.

A True Jump. For those who are curious, it should be possible for Pace to reach up to #5 if he needs or wants to do so. Adding together the value of #20, #52, and 2021’s first-round selection are enough to reach almost #5 (or just past #6) on the Jimmy Johnson chart, or all the way to #4 on the Rich Hill chart. Pace might have a package already worked out with Cincinnati for the first night of the draft, at least in general terms. This isn’t going to get him one of the two hottest quarterbacks, but it might get him the third passer off the board.

UPDATE: If, as reported, the Atlanta Falcons are willing to deal #4, then Pace could make that trade for two firsts and his second so long as the Falcons let him use Rich Hill’s math. Otherwise, he might have to send #83 along the way as well. Given that Atlanta might be receiving multiple calls, they can likely command the higher prices indicated by the Johnson chart.

Another “true jump” contender would be Miami, who swapped picks with Philadelphia and who are currently in the middle of a rebuild. On the Hill chart, getting to #6 could cost two first-rounders (#20 and 2022’s first-rounder) plus a fraction more than #83. On the Johnson chart, it’s considerably more expensive, and likely involves sending #52 instead of #83 and hoping for some sort of discount pick in the fourth round—which Miami no longer has.

Could Pace overpay? Sure. The Jets did it to get Darnold. However, most trades fall within 5% of the major chart values, and Pace almost always does (unless he’s the one getting a discount).

Sliding Back from #20

Pace likes to move back in the later rounds, but #52 is already pretty far back. What if Pace decided to do something completely out of character and actually moved back in the first round to pick up more draft capital later on? If you believe that there is a major fall-off after the top three passers, and if Pace can’t crack the top, then it might be worth it for him just to trade down and see who falls to him.

Imagine he picked up the phone to call the Jaguars, who currently have a spare first-rounder from the Jalen Ramsey trade (#25) and also #33 in the draft. If Pace offered them #20 and #52, he’d only be short by 70 points. That’s basically the value of a fourth-rounder or (and this is key) a future 3rd-rounder. In this scenario, Pace slides back a little and gets to make an earlier second-round pick. It would require Jacksonville wanting to get ahead of division rivals Tennessee Indianapolis for someone, but it is one way Chicago could get a leftover quarterback and a leftover tackle without costing more than a single future pick.

Likewise, the Jets are going to have ample room to maneuver. If they wanted a special player to put with Lawrence, they might want to move up from the 23rd pick (from the Seahawks due to the Jamal Adams trade). The 90-point difference between #23 and #20 isn’t a lot, but it’s more than enough to ask the Jets for #107 (80pts). This gets the Bears back into the fourth round with a little bit of change to spare. This probably would not be preplanned but rather organic, if New York is getting nervous as a particular position group gets hit hard.

Unfortunately, there is no good way for Pace to slide back and use the value to somehow pick up a second first-rounder. He just doesn’t have ammunition without giving up future first-rounders or trying to leverage the second-round pick, which is covered below.

Sliding Around in Round 2

It is highly unlike that Pace is going to wait past his first-round pick to address the quarterback situation, but if he did, he has a lot of freedom to move up in the second round. For example, he could package #52 and #83 and overshoot the value needed to get #36 from Miami (which in turn is part of the package that they got for Laremy Tunsil). This sort of move technically could let Pace back into the first round (because #32 is only worth 590 points), but that depends on a very big assumption, and that’s the idea that what Pace wants to do is pick up a player more or less for that extra one-year option. While that might be smart contract management, that’s not how the boy from Flower Mound typically rolls.

Instead, the best way to leverage that second-rounder is to mortgage the future. #52 and the 2022 first-rounder are together almost the total value of #20, and even #52 and a future second-rounder are together worth 570 points. This sort of move seems so plausible to me that if I’m the Bucs, I’m waiting for Pace to call or even putting out some feelers. Future picks are valuable to teams that are built for the “now,” because they can be patient.

Conclusion

Pace has options. He can spend big to get into striking range of what will likely be the third- or fourth-best quarterback or so, and or he can spend even bigger and maybe even get into the Top 5. More significantly, he can slide around later on and at least create the illusion of freedom in the choices that he makes. What he does with that freedom is another matter.

Pace likes to trade around on the opening day of the draft. One of these days one of those trades might actually work out well.