Bears

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."

Bears' raw, emotional team meeting struck genuine chord with those involved

Bears' raw, emotional team meeting struck genuine chord with those involved

Matt Nagy did an important thing to begin this week. He listened. 

He listened to upward of 40 members of the Chicago Bears talk on a Zoom call for two hours (all that’s allotted by the NFL during OTAs).

Nagy is the white coach of a majority Black team. 

He will never understand what it’s like to be defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who as a 6-foot-4, 350-pound Black man said he’s often viewed as an aggressor because of his size. Or what it’s like to be linebacker Danny Trevathan’s mother, kissing her child -- who's now a parent himself -- on the head before he left the house because she feared her son would never come back. 

But Nagy made sure not only he listened, but the 139 people on the call listened. 

“There was a lot of anger,” Nagy said. “There was a lot of fear in the conversations. There was disgust. There was sadness. There was compassion, hurt, and then there was even at times some stories that I know, surprise.”

MORE: Is NFL ready to support more Kaepernick-like protests in 2020?

A few players posted to Twitter after the meeting:

But what made the meeting notable is how genuine it felt to those involved. Take it from Hicks, who’s been in the NFL for eight years and knows how disingenuous things like it can sometimes be. 

Here are Hicks’ comments, in full, on the meeting (please take the time to read the entire transcript of Hicks’ 30 minutes with Chicago media on Wednesday, too): 

“To be completely honest with you, I didn’t have much feeling towards it. I wasn’t excited to get on that call,” Hicks said. “I didn’t think anything positive was going to come from it. I didn’t know why we were having this moment where we were singing kumbaya and trying to get over what’s really happening in the world. I felt like it might be a control situation where they want to control the narrative and point us in a direction so when we talk to you guys there’s only going to be a certain message that you guys hear. 

“It was the complete opposite. It was totally different. 

“I watched young black men, young white men, older coaches from all across the United States and watching everybody rebuild themselves in a way that isn’t common in sport or masculinity in general, and express their real feelings. Out in the open. Out in positions where you feel like somebody could start pointing at you and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if that’s a good guy. I don’t know [if] we want him or that’s the type of person we want around the building.’ 

“Everybody let those feelings go and shared from the heart and shared their real experiences. There was some hurtful stuff in there. There was some stuff where people were changed and altered for life. And I won’t speak on it because that’s their story, and that’s what they’re dealing with. 

“But I will say this: As a team, there was a level of healing involved in that call, and there was a level of us just coming together. We just got a little bit tighter because we had this experience together. It was a positive call and I think it changed the lives of some of the young men on the team, and it changed mine. It changed my perspective on life.”

The conversation the Bears, as a team, had on Monday was also not done just so a few people could feel good doing it, and then doing nothing about it. Nagy said he wants to begin every meeting in the future with continued discussion so his team can keep thinking about things much bigger than football and how they can help, collectively or individually, make a difference. 

“When you see any kind of stereotypical being done or any kind of discrimination happening, I think that everybody, if they continue to speak up and not be silent or not turn a blind eye to it, I think that we'll continue to make this world a better place,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “I think that's the biggest thing. And that's that people who are actually living in it, like myself, like my family, like my teammates, for guys to continue to get in the community and to continue to impact the community. I think that's the biggest thing to be able to not right now just when all this is going on, to try to impact how you can. 

“I think it's to impact things when this isn't going on to continue to be able to transcend things going in a positive direction on an every day basis, rather than just sparingly when events like this happen.” 

Both Robinson and Trevathan said they felt the conversations with their white teammates were productive, too. 

“I have yet to meet Nick Foles but just to see his aspect of him speaking up, that made me feel like this is a guy I’d go to war for, this is a guy I want to fight for,” Trevathan said. “We have plenty of people speaking up. Mitch (Trubisky). Cody (Whitehair). Pat O’Donnell. And it’s not easy because they have a different voice than the voice I have. It’s reaching different areas. When you have a team that fights together and not just talk about that stuff, not just talk about it but really does something about it — they care for one another. And it makes you want to fight for those guys a lot harder.”

MORE: Why Mitch Trubisky broke his social media silence

The issues of racial injustice, police brutality, white privilege, etc. — these are not easy issues to discuss. Not everybody in a crowd of 139 people is going to be on the same page. You don’t have to guess how some of Drew Brees’ teammates felt about him saying this on a Yahoo! show a day after joining in on #BlackOutTuesday. 

But progress for the issues facing Black Americans, hopefully, can start with people from different backgrounds listening to and hearing what Black Americans are saying (it seems Brees needs to do more of that), and then doing something about it not just once or a few times. The Bears managed to foster those discussions and conversations for two hours on Monday. 

Maybe, just maybe, it’d be a good thing if the rest of the nation started where the Bears did. By listening. And then acting. 

“I think it means a lot for everybody to acknowledge what’s going on, and acknowledge the rights and wrongs of the world,” Robinson said. “The challenge is to continue to acknowledge that. It’s not so easy. To continue to challenge, and go against the grain. Whether that’s somebody that somebody knows, or an old friend or a current friend. If they’re doing saying something that’s (not) right, continuing to challenge them on what’s truly acceptable or not. I think that’s where the challenge lies. 

“Again, being able to see that across the country and across the world in different countries, and everybody coming together, and everybody acknowledging that, I think that’s very good to see. And again the challenge lies in continuing to keep that effort going forward.” 

 

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks' unfiltered, raw interview, video and transcript

Bears DL Akiem Hicks' unfiltered, raw interview, video and transcript

In a lengthy, 28-minute Zoom call with reporters Wednesday, Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks opened up in a way players rarely do. It was emotional and raw, as Hicks touched on sensitive topics that, frankly, players have been silenced on speaking about in the past. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, more and more NFL players have been speaking out. Hicks’ words are especially powerful.

Now is the time to listen and Hicks’ feelings are worth watching or reading in their entirety. Here is the video, as well as the full transcript:

Do you think the NFL’s stance on kneeling during the National Anthem will change?

"Hmmm … OK. Yeah, so it’s a tough answer that I have to give man. I would say that I think it was clear at the beginning of it all that there wasn’t a lot of support. Right? From just our business as a whole. Right? And every aspect of our business, whether that be fans watching or ownership or you know, I’d go as far to say some players around the league. Right? And I would say that the underlying meaning was understood. But regardless of what he was standing for, the picture was painted in a way to make him be as if he was the aggressor or he was trying to make the situation about something different.

RELATED: For Bears players, the future of kneeling protests is the NFL's great unknown

"Look, everything is clear now. Right? As we come up on the other side of this in 2020. And it’s unfortunate that a young man had to sacrifice his career to bring attention and light to it. And now in talking to a lot of players across the league, there are several guys I have talked to who feel they would have done something different, that they wish they would have done something different at the time, that they wish they would have been more supportive. And for fear of whether it was their job or fear of blackballing themselves as that did happen to Kaepernick, a lot of people didn’t stand up with him. Myself included. I would say this: everything is clear now. Do I feel like there is going to be effective change for our business as a whole? I don’t know. Can’t say. I’ve seen a lot. This isn’t the first case, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this happen. So."

What was your reaction to the two-hour team meeting on Monday and did it give you any kind of hope that it will be different this time around?

"I would say that the bigger point is that nobody embraced it. You know what I mean? There was such a large piece of the population that said, 'What is he doing? He doesn't like the flag, he doesn't like America. He's not a citizen. He's this, he's that.' That's the bigger issue to me. We're on the field for 90 minutes, we're on the field for however the amount of allotted time that it is, right? But when we leave that field, we live with a different reality than most. I would say that the bigger issue to me is lack of support as a whole rather than just the NFL."

How would you characterize how you felt about Monday’s team meeting? And as a member of the team’s social justice committee, how can you go about taking these discussions and pushing them forward into action?

"I’ll start with my reaction to the team meeting. Well, to be honest with you, to be completely honest with you, I didn’t have much feeling towards it. I wasn’t excited to get on that call. I didn’t think anything positive was going to come from it. I didn’t know why we were having this moment where we were singing kumbaya and trying to get over what’s really happening in the world. I felt like it might be a control situation where they want to control the narrative and point us in a direction so when we talk to you guys there’s only going to be a certain message that you guys hear.

"It was the complete opposite. It was totally different. I watched young black men, young white men, older coaches from all across the United States and watching everybody rebuild themselves in a way that isn’t common in sport or masculinity in general, and express their real feelings. Out in the open. Out in positions where you feel like somebody could start pointing at you and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if that’s a good guy. I don’t know [if] we want him or that’s the type of person we want around the building.’ Everybody let those feelings go and shared from the heart and shared their real experiences. There was some hurtful stuff in there. There was some stuff where people were changed and altered for life. And I won’t speak on it because that’s their story, and that’s what they’re dealing with. But I will say this: as a team, there was a level of healing involved in that call, and there was a level of us just coming together. We just got a little bit tighter because we had this experience together. It was a positive call and I think it changed the lives of some of the young men on the team, and it changed mine. It changed my perspective on life."

What can your white teammates do going forward?

“I don’t put any extra weight on anyone. I’d rather carry it myself, personally. So what I’ll say, is that for me, I’m not going to push anybody in any direction. I want your path to take you there naturally. Whatever course you’re on, let it take you there. Whatever you feel, whatever you hear, whatever touches you in a way, I’ll let that be your moment. What I will say about our team — we do a good job, I think, of stopping separation. Keeping guys together. I’ll give you an example. Days we’d come into the cafeteria and let’s talk about a position group like the tight ends, who have mainly been Caucasian. They’ll be sitting at a table and there will be three guys of the same ethnicity and they’re having lunch together and you’re not thinking anything of it. But we have guys on our team that will break those barriers. I’ll go sit with them. Danny Trevathan will go sit with them. Now this table isn’t just one minority. We’re all together in this. That’s something that I noticed Kyle Long do; he didn’t care who was sitting at the table, he was coming in there and having a conversation with whatever ethnicity was at the table and that it something that is part of our organization that starts at the top.”

How meaningful was it for the coaches and front office to give you that platform in the meeting?

"Very meaningful. Very meaningful. I would say, sticking with what I was telling you earlier about not knowing what this meeting was going to bring, whether it was going to be effective or not, after experiencing it I felt like it was a very positive experience. Kudos to Coach for making it a space where we could talk and get stuff on the table and not have to bury it deep down inside, or pretend like it's not happening. That sometimes can be worse than being part of the other cause. It's just pretending like nothing is going on. One of the things that transpired during the meeting that I thought spoke volumes of the team was that one of our veterans, he spoke and he said that one of the things that would be positive is seeing these actions from our leadership, them standing out in front of the cause. Positive things will come from those moments that we had."

What is your take on the protests? Can something positive come of this?

"Do I believe something positive is going to come out of this situation as far as what's going to come out of the protests and demonstrations? Man, I hope so. This is different. One thing that I've seen, more than I've seen in other situations where black men have died in the streets because of police brutality, is that there are a lot more ethnicities out on the front line speaking out and standing up. I saw one picture that really stuck with me. There was a line of white people that stood in front of a group of other ethnicities because they felt like their lives or their bodies would be in danger if they were on the front lines — with black people, with Spanish people, whatever ethnicity was behind them, because it looked to be pretty diverse. I thought that was super powerful. It's a picture that's going to stay with me for a long time."

In regards to the coronavirus pandemic, what is it going to take to feel safe again as a player when it comes to practicing and playing games?

"Well shoot I don't know. I'll say this. I have been quarantining for a really long time. I even made a drink. It's called a Quarantini. But I'll say this, it is scary. It's scary to think that most of my job is physical contact with other players. And so boy, I don't know. I don't know. I want to be safe and I'm sure they're going to do their best to make sure we're in the best possible situation in order to be able to play this game and do it, right? But it's scary. That's how I feel."

How is your body? Are you physically healthy?

"I'm excited. I'm ready to play football again. This has been a ... it's been a long time. Remember I didn't really get to play this season right? So my season kind of it wrapped up in October and then I had one last hurrah right there in December and as far as ... I played four games. I miss football. So I'm ready. My body is doing as good as it can. But man, being back on that field will probably make it feel a whole lot better."

Has it bothered you that your team hasn’t worked out Colin Kaepernick? And is there anything you wish you had done differently during his protests?

"I'll speak to my part first. I can't take anything back. I have a saying. At that time when Kaepernick was taking a knee I had the same thought that 85, 90 percent of the league thought at that moment. If I get down on one knee in front of this stadium, I am fired. My job, my career, my life is over. I will be blackballed. And then to come out on the other end and watch it actually happen to Kaepernick, it just tells me my feelings were real. It was the reality and hopefully it won't be going forward. Now as far as my team, how do I feel about my team not working him out, we've got enough stuff to figure out other than bringing other people in it from other situations. What I will say is this though, it's not a Chicago problem, it's an entire league problem. There's 31 other teams that I don't know who's worked him out, who's brought him in. But I will say this, it doesn't start with Chicago.

"I do wonder though, hold on, let me continue that thought though. I wonder, let's say that his career is past him. How do we rectify that situation. How do we make it better because we all — I'm sure everybody, I cant speak for everybody on this call — but we've seen what has happened in the sport. We've seen how he has been pushed to the side. I wonder if they're going to rectify that situation. I wonder if they're going to make it better for everyone, including him."

RELATED: Matt Forte calls for police accountability at peaceful Chicago protest

What exactly goes into a Quarantini?

"There’s been a lot of variations. What I will say is this: after I found out that, I read an article — and just like everybody else, you read an article on Twitter and every other form of media — they said that drinking alcohol could increase your chances of getting COVID. That kinda went down the drain at that point. But I will say this: tequila was involved."

How could the league make things better for Colin Kaepernick?

"I wonder if he gets a job. I wonder if now they say, ‘Hey we need to bring you back in. We’ve seen the injustice. We’ve seen the wrong in the situation that we put you in. And we want to fix it.’ Now is it signing him back? Is it giving him a position in the league? Maybe he works on the social justice committees. Maybe he’s involved in a greater role, to make sure we don’t have these instances again. I can’t speak to how to fix the situation. All I will saw is this: we watched it. We saw how it unfolded. And we see that he doesn’t have a job now. And this call isn’t to advocate for Kap getting a job, but I will say that he did sacrifice his position for where he is now. I can’t say (he’s in a) tough spot, but I will say this, his career was ended because of it, in my opinion.

"We signed Mike Glennon."

Allen Robinson said we could see more athletes kneeling this season. Do you think that will be the case and have you considered that option?

"I haven’t thought about it. I really haven’t considered it. Do I see it being a possibility? It could be, it could be. I guess in my mind, I want another step. I want to see something bigger, different. That already turned out negatively, and we understood what he meant by it. I will say this: let’s make the situation better. I’ll choose change over having to take another knee. I’d rather we just move on."

You have that platform with the organization on the social justice committee. Is that something that now becomes closer to the front-burner for you and is it is something that requires recruiting other teammates to become more involved in these things so it's not just a gesture on game days?

"The beautiful thing about our social justice committee is that it was built by the players. We've already been hands on. Raised close to a million dollars in one season and donated to charities across Chicago. Hands of Hope. Kids for the city. Boys & Girls Club. We work with the city already and I think our personnel does a really good job. Soup Campbell does a really good job of making sure when guys come into the city they know that we're not just football players, we are a part of this community. And that starts at the top with Mr. McCaskey, right? Everybody is involved in making sure that we're giving back and putting our best foot forward in that category. So I don't think that we need to put an extra emphasis on it because it's already at the forefront of what the organization is about. Bears Care, right? Long before I became a part of this team. We have things in place to make sure that we're affecting change in our communities."

What types of actions as players can you take here in Chicago? And how censored now, given what you shared about the past, do you feel you have to be as an NFL player and an African American man?

"I feel like I've been censored my whole life. So for me to feel like I have to keep people at ease to make sure there's a calm while I'm in the room, those are natural things to me. And these things were taught to me in a way, right? Because at an early age, not just being a larger kid, but a larger black kid, I was seen as the antagonist in a lot of situations. I was seen as the bully. I was seen as a person, you know, just not in the best light, right? Developing my mindset going forward, I understood always that I had to make other people feel comfortable before myself. I'm going to continue to do that. I'm going to continue to make sure people feel comfortable around me. Is it unfortunate that I have to live that way? Call it what you want. But I do it because that's how I'm able to move through society and have people OK with me. Anyway, moving forward."

What kind of actions can players take with the platform you have?

"I think everybody right now is in a place of hurt in some instances, especially what I saw on the call the other day, right? Not the best feelings or emotions and I think that was one of the benefits of Coach having that call, is that it gave us a place where we wouldn’t be judged by society to speak on how we felt. So I don’t think anybody has made any plans or ready to move on anything. What we’re looking at right now is just having a better understanding, right? Keeping guys who may be frustrated or hurt by the things that have transpired in the past weeks, keeping them focused and making sure that we’re going in the right direction as far as a team and taking care of the person first. I think that’s what our organization is doing, is taking care of the person, making sure that everybody is in a good state to go forward."

Earlier you said, “We signed Mike Glennon." Do you think if Kaepernick hadn’t protested he would have gotten a starting job a big contract?

"You heard that? Yeah, I said that. I said that. It was a feeling. Do I think that Kaepernick would have gotten a good deal? Yeah, I think he would have gotten a good deal if he had not protested. I couldn’t even begin to speak to that. Do I know that he came to New Orleans when I played for New Orleans and played some really good football against us, won a game at the end of the game, like in the fourth quarter, 60-yard bomb, you remember all your stars. What I’ll say is he did take a team to the Super Bowl. Does he have all the qualifications that we seem to be looking for in NFL quarterbacks? Athletic, he can get the ball down the field, you know what I’m saying? I think that he fits a lot of those categories. Do I know if he would have gotten a huge deal and gone onto be a Hall of Fame quarterback? I don’t know these things. I just know that when he took a knee, he was silenced — or they attempted to silence him.”

Everyone asking you questions on this call is of one ethnicity. None of us can possibly understand what you’ve been going through. So how are you doing?

“Thank you for asking that. I appreciate that. Yeah, it is pretty interesting. It is a really interesting thing to be on this call, and as I swipe through, I don’t see once face that looks like mine. But what I do see is a lot of people I’ve had interactions with on a daily basis that have treated me with respect, have been honest, have worked with me on a lot of the things I’ve done over my four years here. And so what I’ll say is this: racism doesn’t exist in every situation. Have I experienced it or encountered it in my 30 years on this planet? A lot of times. But I can’t live my life or do my job if the first thing on my mind is, ‘This person doesn’t like me because of the color of my skin.’ Now do I experience it? Do I ever feel it? Yes. But I have to interact with every single one of you and to have that mindset it wouldn’t do me any justice.”

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