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Barring QB move, Bears should refrain from trading future draft capital

The Bears have shown a tendency to use future draft capital to move up in recent drafts. Here’s why they should buck that trend this year.

Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Ryan Pace has been known to be willing to get his guy, no matter what.

Since becoming the Bears’ general manager in 2015, Pace has generally proven that, if he finds a prospect he likes in the draft, he is aggressive in trying to acquire him.

Whether that approach is fruitful or not is fairly inconsistent. Pace has had his moments of genius in acquiring talented players, but he has also shown desperation in moving up in the draft by giving up significant capital.

Pace has made 11 trades on Draft Day over the course of his tenure in Chicago, and only three of them have resulted in Pace trading down. Of his eight moves that have seen him trade up, he has given up future draft capital in half of them. His five most recent trades have all seen him move up in the draft, and three of those deals have resulted in his parting with future capital.

I outlined all of Pace’s trades on Draft Day below. I decided not to include the players that were selected with the picks he gave up, seeing as though those picks would likely be different if the Bears were choosing at those selections.

Ryan Pace’s Draft Day Trades

Year Trade Summary Up/Down Future Capital? Players Gained
Year Trade Summary Up/Down Future Capital? Players Gained
2016 Get 2016 1 for 2016 1 and 2016 4 Up N/A Leonard Floyd
2016 Get 2016 2, 2016 4 and 2017 4 for 2016 2 Down Gained N/A (all picks traded)
2016 Get 2016 2 and 2016 4 for 2016 2 Down N/A Cody Whitehair, Deon Bush
2016 Get 2016 4 for 2016 4 and 2016 6 Up N/A Nick Kwiatkoski
2017 Get 2017 1 for 2017 1, 2017 3, 2017 4 and 2018 3 Up Lost Mitchell Trubisky
2017 Get 2017 2, 2017 4, 2017 6 and 2018 4 for 2017 2 Down Gained Adam Shaheen, Tarik Cohen, Joel Iyiegbuniwe
2017 Get 2017 4 for 2017 4 and 2017 6 Up N/A Eddie Jackson
2018 Get 2018 2 for 2019 2 and 2018 4 Up Lost Anthony Miller
2019 Get 2019 3 and 2019 6 for 2019 3, 2019 5 and 2020 4 Up Lost David Montgomery, Duke Shelley
2020 Get 2020 5 and 2020 7 for two 2020 6s and 2020 7 Up N/A Darnell Mooney, Lachavious Simmons
2020 Get 2020 5 for 2021 4 Up Lost Trevis Gipson

An argument that can be made for Pace’s desire to trade up would be the players for whom he moved up. Darnell Mooney and Eddie Jackson stand out as particularly strong trade-up targets, while the likes of Nick Kwiatkoski and David Montgomery were relatively low-risk moves that provided or are providing positive results, respectively.

However, Ryan Pace is actually pretty good at drafting! His early-round picks have been hit or miss, but his ability to consistently find contributions on Day 3 is among the best in the NFL.

Football Outsiders gave an incredible evaluation of each team’s drafting efficiency last summer. The article doesn’t include 2020 draft classes, but they have shown that outside of Pace’s first draft in 2015, the Bears have surpassed expectations given their draft capital.

To calculate efficiency, author Benjamin Ellinger used expected career approximate value to determine the value of each draft slot and compared that with the actual approximate value of each pick. The Bears ended up with a positive net return of 0.43 percent from 2015 to 2019, and Football Outsiders gave them the 13th-best return on capital in that span.

Pace’s 2015 class — which saw him select the likes of Kevin White and Hroniss Grasu in the first three rounds — hurt that value a bit. However, the Bears still generated a positive efficiency return every single year based off of draft capital. From 2016 to 2019, Chicago was the only team to receive a positive return on capital every single year.

Is approximate value the end-all, be-all statistic to determine a player’s value? Not necessarily, but it is a helpful tool that does a very good job of analyzing the importance a player brings to a team. By that metric, Pace is a quality drafter.

His issue has never been the quality of his draft picks, but rather, the quantity. He can’t be to blame for a lack of substantial compensatory picks, having inherited a team with few assets that had plenty of cap space for him to spend in free agency. The real concern stems from his tendency to give up future draft capital and back himself into a corner in future drafts. There are times he finds a way to acquire additional picks in a given draft, but in doing so, he has continued to dish out more and more capital in future years.

A general lack in quantity has seen the Bears struggle with the narrative that they have an aging roster. They tied for the oldest roster among teams to make the playoffs this past year, and bringing in free agents like Andy Dalton, Desmond Trufant, Marquise Goodwin and Christian Jones — solid additions, but all of whom being 30 or older — likely won’t do much to help.

Their long-term security as a unit is in question, too. Next offseason alone, the likes of Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks, James Daniels, Bilal Nichols, Jimmy Graham and Desmond Trufant are all slated to hit free agency. That’s six starters combined on offense and defense — seven, if you include the likely-to-be-traded Anthony Miller — and that doesn’t even factor in potential cap casualties like Robert Quinn or Charles Leno Jr.

What is this all getting at, exactly? With how many long-term needs the Bears could have going forward, it would be in their best interest not to making brash trade-ups this year.

Of course, this excludes the possibility of moving up for a quarterback. If Justin Fields or Trey Lance fall enough to where they can be in range for Chicago to trade up, they should consider it at the very least. Outside of that, they need to be cautious about the value of draft capital they have going forward.

Plus, with the additional eligibility the NCAA granted to fall athletes this year, numerous productive prospects who would not have had a choice but to enter the 2021 draft have decided to stay in school.

Owen Riese from SB Nation’s Bucky’s 5th Quarter made a good point about the 2022 class I stumbled upon on Twitter:

To say that the 2022 class is an elite one is a statement I can’t make yet; my big board is only 71 players deep and only consists of players I thought would declare in 2021. If it is as deep as logic would assume it to be, Day 3 could be a prosperous place to hold draft capital in 2022, even more so than most years.

Trading down is much easier said than done, as it requires both a team willing to move down and a team willing to move up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ideal in some circumstances. It would even be fine if the Bears decided to stay put in this year’s draft — with Pace’s job security presumably in the balance, I do understand that stocking up on future draft capital may not be ideal for a general manager who might not even be in the organization next offseason.

However, they should really refrain from giving up future draft capital like they have in recent years. Given Pace’s reliability as a mid-to-late-round drafter and the long-term instability of the Bears’ roster, it would be in their best interest to look towards the future.