Bears

Bears GM Ryan Pace: Kevin White at No. 7 'was an easy pick'

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Bears GM Ryan Pace: Kevin White at No. 7 'was an easy pick'

When the Bears’ turn on the draft clock came at No. 7 on Thursday night, Bears GM Ryan Pace was faced with a decision. He and the Bears had identified seven players they felt good about taking at No. 7, and two of them were still on the board. One was believed to be edge rusher Vic Beasley, a sack threat projected as a fit for the Bears’ evolving 3-4 scheme.

The other was an offensive player, something Pace has only occasionally been part of drafting No. 1 from his years with the New Orleans Saints.

But for Pace, in the end the “decision” in favor of West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White wasn’t much of a decision at all.

[MORE: Kevin White speed fits Bears GM Ryan Pace WR mold]

“This was an easy pick,” Pace said. “Stay true to our board, take the best player available, and let's get a playmaker. Whether it's defense or offense, let's get a playmaker in the top 10 and that's what we did.”

Whether Pace made the right decision is something the NFL will let him know beginning later this year.

The Bears may have been fielding and putting out trade feelers earlier in the draft process but they did not need their full allotted time to send in their card for the selection of White.

“[The first round has] pretty much come off how we thought it would,” Pace said, sounding like a mixture of relief, satisfaction and pure adrenalin. “We’re really choosing between two players at this point. For us it was an easy decision with Kevin White.

“Trust me, there was a lot of fist-bumping and high-fiving going on when we knew this is how it was going to unfold.”

[RELATED: Impact of Bears trade talk on Jay Cutler worth monitoring]

Addressing LB needs early key

Pace and the Bears did a solid job of positioning themselves to take a true best-available at No. 7. The premium going into this offseason was upgrading the pass rush, and Pace has said on more than one occasion that you can never have too many pass rushers.

But the signings of outside rushmen Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho in particular reduced the urgency for help in the pass rush. Jared Allen has been clearly energized rushing the passer from a two-point stance and the Bears also have Lamarr Houston as a rush linebacker when he returns from a torn ACL.

Pace flexes out of his “history”

With the final No. 1 pick while Pace was a member of the New Orleans Saints’ personnel department, the Saints broke with their pattern of choosing defensive players at No. 1 and selected wide receiver Brandin Cooks from Oregon State. Cooks started seven of the Saints’ first 10 games, caught 53 of the 69 passes thrown to him, netting 550 yards and three touchdowns before suffering a season-ending thumb injury.

The lesson was not lost on Pace, who demonstrated with his first pick that he is not a slave to his NFL upbringing.

Pace used his first No. 1 pick as Bears’ general manager on a wide receiver. It marked the highest wide-receiver selection by the Bears win they chose Curtis Conway out of USC with the No. 7 pick of the 1993 draft.

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Coincidentally, Conway was admittedly an unpolished receiver when he came out of USC after just two seasons. White played just the last two years at West Virginia after two seasons at Lackawanna College where he delivered a modest 36 catches for 535 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.

Pace is not concerned about any traces of “raw” with White.

“I did a lot a lot of work on that — you think about a receiver when you hear the word 'raw' and you think maybe route quickness or those things,” Pace said. “At West Virginia his route variety sometimes you question. I saw every route I needed to see from that player.

“One of the most difficult routes for a receiver to run is a comeback route. You see that from him. You see it at his pro day. You see it at his workout. If you watch enough film on him, you see all that.”

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Bears need a tight end.

It's a narrative that started bubbling since the middle of the 2019 regular season when it became apparent that neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen was the answer at the position for the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy was forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted and little-known veteran J.P. Holtz to find production for his offense. It was a big problem for Nagy, whose system calls for a playmaking tight end like Travis Kelce to hit its maximum potential.

To be fair, there's only a few at that level (Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz) in the league right now. But the Bears have to do their due diligence this offseason to try and find a 'lite' version of that guy. One player in free agency who has a resume of recent production as a pass-catcher to maybe be 'that guy' is Eric Ebron, who's coming off of a down year with the Colts.

Ebron appeared in just 11 games last season and finished with 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. It was a stark contrast from 2018 when he scored 13 touchdowns and was one of the NFL's best playmakers at the position.

RELATED: Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The problem with Ebron as a viable target for Chicago is that his tenure in the league produced more seasons like 2019 than 2018, but his pedigree as a former top-10 pick with high-end athletic traits warrants at least a look for a possible one-year prove-it deal.

At 26 years old, Ebron still has a lot of good football left in his legs. His market value should come in lower than Burton's $8 million per season; according to Spotrac, Ebron's expected contract this offseason will pay him around $7.5 million per year. Compared to the likely cost for players like Austin Hooper (Falcons) and Hunter Henry (Chargers), Ebron will be a bargain.

Ryan Pace will be bargain shopping in March, and Ebron may end up on the discount rack after the first wave of free agency concludes. Teams will be hesitant to offer him the kind of multi-year deal he's going to seek, which will give the Bears a chance to swoop in and lure him with the prove-it theory. He's young enough to earn a lucrative contract in 2021 if he posts big-time numbers in 2020, which Nagy's offense will give him the chance to do if he stays healthy.

Even the worst version of Ebron is better than the best of what Chicago has on its roster right now. He should rank highly on their offseason wish list, assuming his market remains where it logically should.

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Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The Bears have been connected to all of the big-name free agent quarterbacks this offseason. General manager Ryan Pace is expected to add competition for the starting job in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft after incumbent and former second overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, regressed mightily in his third season last year.

But rather than focus on players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and even Marcus Mariota, it makes more sense to pay close attention to the next tier of free agent passers who could offer a potential upgrade from Trubisky while not necessarily creating shockwaves through Halas Hall upon signing.

One quarterback who fits that description perfectly is Case Keenum, the journeyman starter who's entering his 10th season in the league. 

Keenum is coming off of back-to-back forgettable seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, but it wasn't long ago when he was one of the better storylines in the NFL after leading the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. He threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions that year and earned himself a respectable two-year, $36 million contract with Denver in 2018. His tenure as a Bronco lasted just one season (he finished 2018 with a 6-10 record) and his time as the Redskins starter was short-lived in 2019. He started just eight games for Washington.

For his career, Keenum's completed 62.4% of his passes and has thrown 75 touchdowns compared to 47 interceptions.

Keenum's resume isn't overly impressive, which is why he's a great fit for what Pace should try to accomplish over the next two months. He has to find a competent starter who can take advantage of everything else the Bears have going for them (namely, a championship-caliber defense) and who can be aggressive enough on offense to score enough points to win the close games. Keenum proved in 2017 that he can do that, especially when he has a good supporting case around him.

Keenum also qualifies as a solid bridge quarterback in the event Trubisky crashes and burns in 2020. At 32 years old, he's young enough to keep the starting job for a couple of seasons while Chicago attempts to find a younger long-term answer under center. 

Last but not least, he's going to be cheap. He didn't have a good year in 2019, and he was making just $3.5 million with the Redskins. There will be a limited market for his services this March, which means the Bears should be able to land him at a backup's salary despite his starter's upside. And that matters, especially for a team that's trying to free up salary cap space for other positions of need along the offensive line and secondary.

Keenum won't move the needle much for Bears fans in March, but landing a player of his caliber could ultimately be the difference between the Bears missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season and making a deep playoff run.