That one picture featuring half of Ryan Pace's face peering in from behind a door is about to get so much play this offseason. Tomorrow morning's end-of-season media debrief will officially kick off the most pivotal offseason yet for the Bears' GM. Another 8-8 season next year would almost certainly require either a change at head coach or GM, meaning the best-case scenario for Pace would be that he has to find his third coach in seven seasons. If the hotseat hasn't found him yet, another wasted season of Khalil Mack's (or Akiem Hicks', or Allen Robinson's) prime would certainly do the trick.
Pace has the next seven months to define what the rest of the Bears' window is going to look like, and these are the decisions he's going to have to make.
A fifth year option by 5/5
It basically writes itself! The Big Decision: What to do about Mitch Trubisky? Pace has until May 5 to decide on the team-option in the last year of the QB's rookie contract. For the loudest tweeters among you, Trubisky will count for $9 million against next season's cap, so yes he's going to be on the team next year, and even if it were only half of that, the Bears would still keep him on the roster. This may not be the first decision Pace has to make, but it'll be the one that garners the most attention. Given how much his job is tied to Trubisky's success, it's easy to see a scenario in which the Bears exercise the option and take a gamble by paying Trubisky market value for the 2021 season. They excercised an option year on Leonard Floyd before this season. They'll have to move on from Chase Daniel, as unpopular as the decision may be in certain Halas Hall offices, if not for competitive reasons, then financial ones. Daniel made $10 million total over the past two seasons backing up Trubisky. QB decisions always define a GM's tenure, and Pace has quite a few coming his way.
Sustaining the defense
The Bears are only competitive because of their defense. This offseason, there are a lot of contracts coming off the books on that side of the ball; Nick Williams, Danny Trevathan, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Nick Kwiatkoski, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Aaron Lynch, Sherrick McManis and Deon Bush are all unrestricted free agents. Does Pace have the cap space to bring back big names like Trevathan or Clinton-Dix? Would he even want to? Is he willing to pay Williams, Kwiatkoski, or KPL significantly more? Lynch and Bush have probably played their last games with the Bears, but what about the injured McManis? For what it's worth, Williams expressed an interest in returning on Monday afternoon.
“I think I’m gonna have fun in free agency this year," he said with a smile. "We’ll see what happens in the future. Obviously I want to be back here. I want to be a Bear. I love this organization. They’ve afforded me a lot of great opportunities. I like this locker room. I like my teammates. We’ll see what happens.”
Then there are other contractual details to think about, like how Eddie Jackson's ends after next season and Prince Amukamara's is starting to feel like a bit of an anchor. The good news is that the core isn't going anywhere: Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Eddie Goldman and Kyle Fuller all have multiple seasons left on their deals. But Pace has more work to do on defense than he's had in a while – and at a time when the offense requires more attention than ever.
On a broader level, none of the cap maneuvering or draft savvy really matters if the Bears can't admit what they are and what they're not. That's on Pace. Hindsight hasn't treated the Trubisky trade kindly, nor the Leonard Floyd extension. Presuming that Pace knows that age may have caught up with Kyle Long, can he do the same with Amukamara? Converting defensive linemen and shuffling guys all over the line doesn't seem to be as useful an exercise as the team would like you to believe. Despite all the missteps, many at the team's most vital positions, the Bears are still built well enough to compete for NFC North titles over the next half decade or so. What will stop them from doing so is trying the same thing and expecting it to go any differently.
After Sunday's win, Nagy talked honestly about just how much introspection is needed this offseason. "I'm ready to go in attack mode and figure out with Ryan how we want to go about this thing," he said. "And there's a lot of stuff for us to look at. It's not one thing. It's all three phases. And that's our job. That's why we're here is to do that."
For the sake of his own job security, you'd hope Pace agrees.