What's past is often prologue, and the past of Ryan Pace gives hints of how the Bears will behave in his third offseason as Bears general manager. But not necessarily clear hints.
Pace has moved quickly with starter-grade signings in his first two offseasons. He does come from a background primarily on the pro-personnel side of football operations, meaning he's spent much of his career scouting players already in the NFL. And arguably meaning that he should have more hits than misses with free agents.
"I think coming from New Orleans, my background had always been more in pro scouting," Pace said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. "So I've always been very comfortable in free agency and kind of understanding, ‘hey, free agency is dangerous. You're stepping through land mines, and you've got to be careful you don't step on the wrong one.'
"A lot of times, these guys are available for a reason, so you have to sort through that. But I'm comfortable in free agency because that's more of my background."
In that cautionary vein, Pace placed the requisite emphasis on responsible spending last week, noting that it is possible to recover from a player not signed but not always so with one signed at a wrong price, or one that simply cannot play not that he is no longer with a coach, team or system in which he'd flourished.
On whom, which positions and when will Pace and the organization spend first and most this offseason? Pace has never drafted a quarterback or signed a starting one, for instance; how will he navigate his first time in the most critical position in the sport?
The Bears have money to spend, some $52 million not including another $14 million once Jay Cutler's contract is terminated. But hosing down the NFL with money is not a viable course for a GM and coach seeking a dramatic reversal of a 9-23 first two years – even though the objective beginning with the start of the open-negotiating period on Tuesday and leading to the start of the signing period Thursday is to go hard after positions of need – quarterback, cornerback, safety, receiver – right away in free agency.
"Ideally with free agency we're addressing most of our needs, to allow the draft to be best player available, which increases your odds," Pace said. "We have [price] parameters set up for each guy, what we expect it's going to get to, and we have to know when we're going north of that number and when we might need to back away.
"Which can be hard, being honest, because you're competitive and you visualize certain guys being on your team. But once it goes north of the number, you've also got to be responsible and disciplined. It can be a challenge."
Under Pace the Bears have not been market-makers on the high end. Pace has gone after starters from winning teams, the Bears have paid them, and Pace's pattern is to make multiple moves early rather than sitting out the first wave of free agency.
|2015||March 10 start|
|March 11||Sign LB Pernell McPhee, S Antrel Rolle, WR Eddie Royal|
|March 16||Sign G Vlad Ducasse|
|March 24||Sign DL Jarvis Jenkins, Ray McDonald|
|2016||March 9 start|
|March 9||Sign T Bobbie Massie, re-sign CB Tracy Porter, sign LB Danny Trevathan|
|March 12||Sign LB Jerrell Freeman|
|March 13||Sign DL Akiem Hicks|
|March 22||Sign TE Josh Hill to offer sheet (matched by Saints)|
"Win now" mindset
The Bears under Pace have committed to the draft, with solid results from the 2016 class (Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard) and, injuries notwithstanding, apparent promise in 2015 (Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu).
But they signed solid veteran Brian Hoyer as Cutler's backup last season and drafted no quarterbacks for development for the second straight year, pointing to a strong belief that the team was expected to win sooner rather than later.
The strategy this week is expected to be adding a veteran starter at the top of the depth chart and commit to developing a young quarterback, presumably in the person of re-signed Connor Shaw and/or a draft pick. Whether that "veteran" turns out to be Hoyer, Jimmy Garoppolo, Mike Glennon, Kirk Cousins or a player to be discovered later will play out in the next few days.
Pace and the Bears also face a major financial decision with Alshon Jeffery, having opted against a second franchise tag and effectively letting market forces decide whether the veteran wide receiver is worth what he thinks he is, or what the Bears think. The two sides were some $5 million per year apart last year when the tag was applied. Jeffery is expected to command in the range $10 million per year this year after missing 11 games over the past two seasons.
Jeffery will be one of those situations Pace alluded to, with the Bears expected to drop out of any bidding once the price gets "north" of what they have set as his money parameters.
"Alshon is a fluid process as well," Pace said, "but whatever happens there, whether it's Alshon or whatever it is, we're going to be improving at that position."