Bears entering free agency No. 3 under GM Ryan Pace with targets but also caution

Bears entering free agency No. 3 under GM Ryan Pace with targets but also caution

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."
Pace's past
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.
His history:

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."

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

The Chicago Bears have completely flipped the narrative of their 2019 season over the last three weeks, thanks in large part to Matt Nagy's offense finally resembling the 202-level that was promised last summer.

It may have taken quarterback Mitch Trubisky a little longer than expected to arrive this year, but if his last two games are an indication of his development in his second season under Nagy's tutelage, the Bears have a bonafide quarterback. And it's been a while since that could be said.

"Mitchell Trubisky is hot, there's no doubt about it," NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said Thursday. "He seems so much more comfortable. Decisive. He's accurate with the football. Running around at the proper time. I don't think it was all Mitchell Trubisky's fault with the struggles of the offense, either."

Those struggles spanned the first half of 2019 when Chicago seemed incapable of sustaining drives or scoring points. It began with Week 1's three-point output against the Packers and continued through Thanksgiving Day when Trubisky finally got his mojo back, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

With Trubisky clicking, and the running game receiving a jolt from rookie David Montgomery's productive back-to-back weeks in which he's averaged more than four yards per carry in successive games for the first time all year, the Bears appear capable of beating just about anyone. 

They'll need to. If Chicago wants to keep their weak playoff pulse going, they have to win-out. And that includes games against the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings. 

The odds seem stacked against them, and it's their own fault. It took way too long to get the offense going, but it's better late than never. 

According to Simms, the Bears are that team no one wants to play.

"They're a dangerous team right now. They really are."

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Just when it appeared like Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was entering his final half-season as the team's unquestioned starting quarterback, the last month happened.

Trubisky's play has steadily improved over the last five games and reached what may have been his watermark moment in Week 14 against the Cowboys. He completed 74% of his passes for 244 yards and three passing touchdowns while adding a season-high 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground. It marked the second week in a row that Trubisky's completed over 74% of his passes; he connected on 76% of his throws a week earlier against the Lions.

Trubisky's recent success is a far cry from the mentally broken player he was after the first month of the season. He has his confidence back. In fact, he's playing with more confidence than he's ever shown as a pro. His recent success is a direct and obvious result of his evolution between the ears.

The Bears were circled as a team that was likely to be in the quarterback market this offseason because of how terrible Trubisky looked early in 2019. And there's still a chance that GM Ryan Pace will look to add some healthy competition to the roster, but if Trubisky continues to play well, that competition will be for the backup job. 

It's also worth noting that one of the more appealing quarterback targets this offseason probably won't make it to the open market. Titans starter Ryan Tannehill continues to enjoy a remarkable comeback season and appears destined to sign a long-term extension with Tennessee sooner than later. After Tannehill, the discount quarterback rack includes names like Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota, players who a month ago would've been viewed as marked upgrades over Trubisky.

It doesn't feel like that's the case anymore.

Barring a massive regression from Trubisky over the next three games, it's starting to feel like he's winning back Chicago's confidence one game at a time. 

With all that in mind, here's the updated Bears QB Big Board entering Week 15:

Bears QB Big Board (Dec. 12, 2019)

1. Mitch Trubisky (Bears)
previous: 2 (Dec. 3)

2. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
previous: 1 (Dec. 3)

3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans)
previous: 3  (Dec. 3)

4. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
previous: 4 (Dec. 3)

5. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
previous: 5 (Dec. 3)

6. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
previous: 6 (Dec. 3)

Outside looking in (list cut down to three)...

-Jake Fromm (Georgia)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

-Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

- Cam Newton (Panthers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

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