Bears

Ryan Pace aggressively got his QB and coach, and will sink or swim with Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Nagy

Ryan Pace aggressively got his QB and coach, and will sink or swim with Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Nagy

We don’t know if Ryan Pace’s plan for the Bears is going to work, not less than one year after he drafted Mitchell Trubisky and less than two days after he hired Matt Nagy. 

But we do know this: These next few years are going to be absolutely fascinating in Chicago. Pace, Nagy and Trubisky are tethered to each other now, and as a trio will either sink or swim for a franchise that's done a lot of sinking recently. 

Pace and the Bears introduced Nagy as their 16th head coach on Tuesday, and with it came a pointed message: We didn’t hire this guy just because he’s a former quarterback who’s worked with quarterbacks in his coaching career. Pace believes Nagy has what it takes to lead an entire roster — not just an offense or quarterback room — out of the basement of the NFC North. 

How a first-time coach will command respect of the locker room is a critical question to answer. But Pace is sold on the 39-year-old’s ability to connect with a team despite his lack of prior head coaching experience. 

“The more research you do and the more people you talk to, different than me when I came in here, you find out about the person, find out about his makeup and his work ethic and all those things, and at the end of the day, it wasn't a concern,” Pace said. “I like his energy and I like how creative he is and how innovative he is. He's willing to think outside the box. Those are intriguing traits.” 

But make no mistake, the Bears have to get the quarterback position right. Pace didn’t trade up a spot to draft Trubisky just to have him be “fine.” Pace didn’t take just eight days to decide on a coach for him to not work well with the franchise’s most important player. Not only did John Fox not win enough games in his three years with the Bears, his conservative approach to gameplanning just didn’t seem to mesh with a team that just drafted a quarterback in a quarterback-driven league. 

Everything the Bears have done in the last 12 months lead up to this moment has been aggressive. The Indianapolis Colts also interviewed Nagy; their general manager, Chris Ballard, overlapped with him in Kansas City. Like with drafting Trubisky, Pace didn’t want to leave anything to chance once he had conviction that he had found his guy. 

“It’s a competitive market right now,” Pace said. “… We’re going to be thorough in our research and when we have conviction, we’re going to be aggressive and get it done.”

So if “aggressive” is the key word here, it certainly seems to fit Nagy’s style. 

“As far as being aggressive, that’s my nature,” Nagy said, in reference to his playcalling strategy. “I’m going to be aggressive, but it has to calculated. You need to understand the difference between being too aggressive and not aggressive enough. If you ask someone to cross the line on me being aggressive or not, they’re going to say aggressive, as a play caller and person.”

Not all of those aggressive moves have worked (see Glennon, Mike). Maybe Trubisky and/or Nagy won’t, either. If the Bears have to draft another quarterback or hire a different head coach in a few years, chances are Pace won't be the one making those decisions. 

But this structure may work out, too. Trubisky could flourish under Nagy's tutelage and flourish in a modern NFL in which quarterback play is paramount to success. We'll see. 

Either way, it’s going to be a hell of a ride as we watch this play out over the next few years. 

Do the math: Ryan Pace's draft 'cloud' allows for a tantalizing trade-down possibility

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Do the math: Ryan Pace's draft 'cloud' allows for a tantalizing trade-down possibility

Ryan Pace had his annual strategically-cagey press conference on Tuesday, with the Bears’ general manager not wanting to reveal anything about his plans 48 hours before the NFL Draft begins. 

But there was at least one morsel of information dropped by Pace that could be useful in looking ahead to Thursday. 

Pace said the Bears have eight players in their “cloud” who they’d be comfortable taking with the eighth overall pick. None of those players are quarterbacks, of course, but there will be no fewer than two quarterbacks taken in the first seven picks (by the Cleveland Browns at No. 1/No. 4 and New York Jets at No. 3). And there’s a strong possibility three quarterbacks will be off the board in the first seven picks, too, either by virtue of the New York Giants or Denver Broncos taking one or because a team (like the Buffalo Bills or Arizona Cardinals) traded up to take their guy. 

So here’s a scenario: The Browns, Jets and Broncos all draft quarterbacks, leaving one of the consensus top four players at that position (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield) on the board when the Bears’ pick comes around at No. 8. If three quarterbacks are off the board, then most likely four of the eight players in Pace’s cloud are also taken after seven picks. 

The Bills didn't trade their left tackle to the Cincinnati Bengals to move up from pick No. 21 to No. 12 to not draft a quarterback, not after dealing away Tyrod Taylor and signing A.J. McCarron a year after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. In short: It would be a failure for the Bills’ front office if they didn’t draft a quarterback in the first round. 

So if we get to the Bears’ pick at No. 8, and the Bills haven’t moved up and drafted a quarterback yet, here’s where the trade-down possibility comes into play for Pace. If he were to move down to the No. 12 pick, and the Bills took a quarterback at No. 8, that would mean at least four quarterbacks would be off the board by the time the Bears would pick at No. 12. 

And that would mean that at least one of those eight players who Pace would be comfortable selecting with the eighth overall pick would be available at No. 12. Maybe the Miami Dolphins take a quarterback, too — Lamar Jackson would presumably be their guy — with the No. 11 pick, meaning two of those eight are on the board. 

“I think, especially with the quarterback situation this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some movement because of the quarterbacks in the draft,” Pace said. “I think there’s more trading that’s going on now. I don’t know if it’s a new wave. Sometimes with these trades and you have relationships with these other GMs, there can be win-win scenarios. There’s always this fear that someone is going to get the short end of the stick. Well, if you’re thorough with your research, and they are too, there can be win-win scenarios in these trades.”

A lot would have to break right for this scenario to play out, of course. The Bills could opt to trade up with the Browns (No. 4), Broncos (No. 5), Indianapolis Colts (No. 6) or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7) to limit their risk in getting burned in finding their quarterback of the future. 

There could be four quarterbacks taken in the first four picks, too, which would limit the Bears’ trade-down opportunities but ensure half of Pace’s draft “cloud” is still there when he goes on the clock. The Bears could see that situation as an opportunity to draft one of the top four players on their draft board despite having the No. 8 pick. 

“If four quarterbacks go in front of us, I’m all for it,” Pace said at the league meetings last month. “I think you see the value of that position right now when you see people posturing to get up in the draft and get a quarterback. It’s critical. … So us personally right now, we’re all for as many quarterbacks going.”

Pace has traded up in the first round in each of his last two drafts to pick a guy on which there was conviction and a consensus (Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky). But the math makes sense for him to trade down, if the possibility is there, and still draft a guy he likes while adding picks for Friday and/or Saturday. 

Speaking of players’ draft traits, what about those of Ryan Pace?

Speaking of players’ draft traits, what about those of Ryan Pace?

The days/weeks/months leading up to the NFL draft are all about players’ traits – size, speed, arm length, arm strength/throwing, arm strength/lifting and so on. Those ultimately determine whom is drafted where and by whom.

 

But what about the “traits” of the selectors, one selector in particular: Bears GM Ryan Pace?

 

Borrowing James Bond’s standard of measure – “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action” – the fact that Pace has now directed three drafts allows viewing him through the Bond prism.

 

And three particular Ryan “traits” begin to come into sharper focus when the camera is pulled back to look at the bigger Pace picture.

 

 

Subterfuge

 

Last year Pace didn’t even tell his head coach that the Bears were going to get Mitch Trubisky with their No. 1 pick. The plan was always to land a quarterback; Pace’s decision on which one surprised more than a few people even at Halas Hall.

 

But Pace isn’t exactly an anomaly. Over the years, NFL teams have become increasingly secretive in its handling of draft information. Pre-draft get-togethers typically produced any number of “We really like….” declarations regarding particular players. Those statements found their ways into the informational mainstream, which produced situations where opposing teams used that information to jump ahead of the Bears to snag a player targeted by the Bears.

 

So “this time of year I think it’s OK to be a little boring in these moments,” Pace said, laughing.

 

 

A “ceiling” guy

 

NFL personnel execs loosely fall along two general lines: the ones who gamble on a player’s upside (his “ceiling”) and those who factor in a bigger safety component in evaluating a prospect (his “floor”). And obviously there are similar elements in most execs.

 

Jerry Angelo was a “floor guy,” wanting to minimize the risk in a No. 1 pick even if it meant doing without a little upside. Pace is more “ceiling guy,” inclined to gamble more on projection, what a player could become. That was apparent even in some of his free-agent signings. Quarterback Mike Glennon was signed for his upside. So was tight end Trey Burton this year.

 

Now consider his high draft picks:

 

Wide receiver Kevin White, one huge (109 rec., 10 TD’s) college season, taken No. 7 overall.

 

Edge rusher Leonard Floyd –  productive all-around player at Georgia but a too-light 231 pounds. Trade up from 11th to 9th.

 

Trubisky – one good college season, 13 starts, 68% completions, 30 TD/6 INT. Trade up from 3rd to 2nd to select.

 

Tight end Adam Shaheen – small-college product, never faced top competition, taken 2nd round.

 

“You see a lot of physical traits and talent, and you're projecting how much better they can get,” said Pace, who characterized himself as both a ceiling and floor guy. “That's part of the art of doing this. I think a lot of that goes into the work by all of us — by our scouts and our coaches — and also knowing the football makeup they have. We talk about the desire to get better, their passion and their love for the game.

 

“If they have all the physical traits but they don't have that desire, then it might not work. But if they do have that desire, they do have that passion, those are the kinds of players we want because we have more faith they'll improve.”

 

 

Creative flex

 

The Bears have bordered on stodgy too many drafts. Contrasted to that, Pace’s draft aggressiveness has been amply chronicled. Pace has made seven draft day trades, four in 2016 and three last season. Pace’s four trades during the 2016 draft were the most by the team since 2000.

 

Pace traded up in each of the last two drafts to select clearly targeted players. The Bears hadn’t made a deal involving their first-round picks since giving away two of them in a trade for Jay Cutler in 2009. More noteworthy, the Bears before Pace had rarely made a move UP in a first round and in fact were far more inclined to trade out of their No. 1 slots.

 

Not necessarily to be viewed as organizational timidity, but besides the Cutler trade, they’d given Buffalo their No. 1 in 2006, going all the way out of the first round. They’d traded out of No. 4-overall in 2003, down to 14 and 22. They gave away their 1997 No. 1 in a trade for Rick Mirer.

 

Pace doesn’t shrink from the moment. "When we identify a guy that we like, and there's a unified vision in the building on a player that we want,” he said, “I don't think we're ever afraid to go up and get that guy."

 

But he also traded down in second rounds of each of the last two drafts. He in fact traded down twice in the 2016 second round, adding picks each time and still winding up with rookie O-line starter Cody Whitehair. Pace's second-round picks (Whitehair, nose tackle Eddie Goldman) have been better than his No. 1’s.

 

“In this [GM] chair, you're taking a lot of information,” Pace said. “We can have 10 to 12 reports on one player. You're taking all that information in. I have a really good feel now for, like, ‘OK, this coach or this scout's kind of a high grader; this guy's a low grader,’ taking it all in.

 

“Being aggressive when you need to be aggressive. Make a move if you need to make a move. And that can go the other way, too. The last two years, we've traded back in the second round and accumulated some more picks. That helped us a lot last year getting some good players. So, I think not being afraid to move around in the draft and use that to your advantage.”