The Ryan Pace era will be defined, now, by the success or failure of three men.
Pace first tethered himself to quarterback Mitch Trubisky, trading up from the No. 3 to No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to make sure he got the guy he viewed as a franchise quarterback.
Then, after receiving a two-year contract extension announced concurrently with the firing of coach John Fox, Pace tethered himself to Matt Nagy, the guy he hired to pair with his franchise quarterback.
This weekend, Pace will tether himself to one other player: Khalil Mack. Trading two first-round picks, as is the reported price the Bears will pay, moves the Bears squarely into win-now mode. Pace is done building through the draft (and won't have a pick until the second half of Day 2 next year, as it cost him a 2019 second-round pick to grab Anthony Miller earlier this year).
So behind primarily Nagy, Trubisky and Mack, the Bears will either make the playoffs and be a success, or flame out and get everyone fired.
Pace, on one hand, has the job security to make so many bold plays. Upper management gave him that contract extension despite a 14-34 record in his three years at the helm, an after-the fact signal that the rebuilding project he inherited in 2015 was going to require a significant personnel overhaul. In that lense, 2015-2017 can be viewed as a time in which the Bears weren’t in a position to win, and Pace’s moves reflected that.
To wit: While the Mike Glennon contract became a punchline for a losing franchise, it was designed so the Bears could get out from it after one year. Same for Marcus Cooper and Markus Wheaton. Even drafting Kevin White, Leonard Floyd and Trubisky with first-round picks could, favorably, be construed as Pace drafting more developmental players with high ceilings who would need a year or two to grow.
So if the first phase of Pace’s tenure was to clean up the mess left to him and Fox by Phil Emery and Marc Trestman, the second phase appears to be this: Win.
Even before the blockbuster deal to get Mack, Pace’s acquisitions signaled a shift to a more win-now attitude. Contracts for Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Cody Parkey, Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller didn’t have the same one-year ripcords the Bears were able to pull in the past. Drafting Roquan Smith was a sensible move to land a guy who, ideally, would be a Week 1 starter (his 29-day holdout and subsequent hamstring injury mean that all but certainly won’t be the case).
And now mortgaging two first-round picks — the most valuable resources possessed by a team in rebuilding mode — for one of the league’s two or three best edge rushers means Pace’s phase two is ready to be executed.
If Pace’s plan works, it’ll be because pairing Trubisky and Nagy worked just as well as adding Mack to an already-solid defense. If it doesn’t work, the Bears will have to start over in a few years with another rebuilding project under a new regime.
But there’s a clear direction, now, for a franchise that’s subjected its fans to dull, losing football for far too long. That direction is to win. And it starts a week from Sunday in Green Bay.