Ryan Pace will get a fourth chance to fix a quarterback mess he inherited six years ago and has made worse at every turn since.
First it was Mike Glennon (four starts, $18.5 million). Then Mitch Trubisky (instead of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes). Then Nick Foles (statistically one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL in 2020).
Now, armed with the 20th overall pick and, right now, the 13th-lowest amount of cap space, Pace is in line to acquire another starting quarterback.
And a win-now mandate – which surely will come with Pace and Matt Nagy keeping their jobs in 2021, per multiple reports – might be the worst thing for the direction this franchise takes the rest of this decade.
Because, more than anything else, it’s going to take hitting a home run at quarterback for Pace to keep his job.
But George McCaskey is seemingly asking Pace to swing for the fences with all the resources of a cracked wiffle ball bat. He can go out and get a better bat, but it’ll cost the Bears to even take that swing.
On the surface, it doesn’t look likely that Pace can go all-in on someone he thinks is a top-tier – or even mid-tier – starting quarterback in the NFL. Those players cost tens of millions of dollars or require a top-10 pick. The Bears have neither at their disposal.
There is the chance Pace acts with conviction – the word he used when he outbid the league for Glennon, then traded up one pick to draft Trubisky, then traded a fourth-round pick for and guaranteed $24 million to Foles. Conviction has been Pace’s worst enemy. It’s what’s led him to take those mighty swings and misses.
“(Glennon was) a guy that I had a lot of conviction on for a long time,” Pace said in 2017.
“We had conviction on this quarterback (Trubisky) and his special attributes and we did what we had to do to get him,” Pace four years ago. “His potential to be a championship quarterback – and that’s all we focused on in this move.”
And: “For all those different coaches to all independently have that conviction on (Foles) along with our scouts, just made it easy to make that decision when there’s just conviction from the scouts and the coaches together,” Pace said last year.
To sign or trade for a high-priced veteran, Pace could create cap space a few ways. There are obvious moves – cutting Bobby Massie, Buster Skrine and Jimmy Graham – that won’t impact the Bears’ long-term future. But re-structuring the contracts of players like Khalil Mack, Cody Whitehair and/or Eddie Goldman would tie those players to Chicago deeper into the 2020s. The same goes for lowering Kyle Fuller and Akiem Hicks’ 2021 cap numbers by signing them to extensions.
That might not be a bad thing, since these are good players we’re talking about. But if the Bears, a year from now, realize they have to tear this thing down to eventually be good again, the next GM will have fewer resources to work with, let alone a quarterback he or she may not want. And it’ll keep this team marooned in the NFL’s bleak wasteland of mediocrity, far from the goal of bringing a second Lombardi Trophy to Chicago.
By the way, going all-in on a veteran quarterback almost certainly means there won't be enough money left over for impending free agent Allen Robinson, who might not want to come back to Chicago anyway.
Another scenario that’ll keep Bears fans up at night: Pace trading up from No. 20 overall to draft a quarterback. That would be the really big swing, the one that would exhaust even more draft capital – which Pace valued far less than his conviction in singular players like Trubisky, Leonard Floyd and Anthony Miller.
“Whenever there is conviction from us as a whole and there’s a consensus from our scouts and coaches together, that really makes it for me easier to pull the trigger on something like that,” Pace said last year of trading away draft picks. There's that word again.
Maybe Pace moves up to draft, say, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and finally hits the home run he’s been striving so badly for ever since he was hired in 2015. But if he doesn’t, the next regime is stuck with limited resources to quickly rebuild this roster and a young quarterback they didn’t draft, and may not want.
If this all feels ominous, that’s because the Bears have been heading down this path of mediocrity for months. Pace approached last offseason like the Bears were two or three players away from being Super Bowl contenders, leading him to the disastrous Robert Quinn signing while overpaying for Foles to have a competition Foles lost. Those were win-now moves that'll impact the Bears' plans for the next few years, and not in a good way.
The Bears are much, much more than a few players away from being a legitimate threat in the NFC. If Robinson leaves in free agency, they certainly won’t be merely a quarterback and a left/right tackle away.
But with a win-now mandate and few resources available, Pace will likely have to operate like the Bears just need a player here or a player there to pull out of the sinkhole of mediocrity they’ve created for themselves. And one of those players will be a quarterback.
In baseball, striking out four times in a game is known as a golden sombrero. Pace is one strikeout away from a golden sombrero on quarterbacks. He better not swing and miss again, otherwise the Bears - and every fan invested in this team - will pay the price for years to come.