Shortly after Ryan Pace’s joint season-ending press conference with head coach John Fox on Wednesday, the third-year general manager took the time to sit down with CSN’s Chris Boden for a follow-up question-and-answer session as he enters what he describes as the most significant offseason in his goal to rebuild the Bears following a disappointing 3-13 season.
How would you characterize your first two seasons for fans that only see a 9-23 record?
Coming into this, I knew what we were getting into. I knew there was gonna be a lot of heavy lifting that needed to take place, and the competitor in me kind of enjoys the process. These times are painful, it’s hard. Three wins are unacceptable. But the silver lining behind it is — as you look deeper — you see a lot of younger core players playing well. It’s important that we continue adding to that group. This offseason is significant. We have a lot of opportunity in front of us, so we’d better take advantage of it.
What do you feel the degree of urgency is this offseason?
I think the urgency’s amplified because of where we’re picking in the draft. Picking third is significant. Hopefully we’re not there ever again, but while we’re there, we’d better take advantage of it.
Drafting third overall, do you need a Day 1 starter out of that pick?
I think when you’re picking top five, you’re looking for an impact guy. Different positions will have different expectations, depending who you’re picking. The quarterback position’s one we talk a lot about, but sometimes playing a quarterback right away isn’t the best thing. So we just have to take a look at who it is, and what position it is.
When you arrived here you discussed the desire to draft a quarterback every year. Looking at that situation this past season, is there any regret you didn’t take the opportunity to do that in your first two drafts, while realizing there were so many areas of the roster that required attention?
I really think it has to align. I don’t want to take a quarterback that we’re not all on board with just because we’ve got to take the position. It really has to align for you. And I think as we got deeper into the roster there were a lot of critical needs that we have to address in other areas, so that’s kind of what we were doing. There will be a point in time where quarterback’s going to be addressed.
How do you feel about the quarterbacks on your roster right now?
They’re all different. They’ve all had good moments. We’ve played so many different ones it was difficult to find a rhythm and continuity this year. We were all able to find out about each guy, but that’s an area where we want to create competition. And when you only win three games, we’re trying to create competition everywhere. I fully understand the magnitude of that position and how critical is to get that position right. I’ve been places before where that position can carry the team, and we’ve got to get that decision right and again a lot of things are on the table right now.
How do you feel about your first two first-round draft picks?
The stigma on Kevin (White) is gonna be his durability, and he’s motivated to prove people wrong. He has a chip on his shoulder, and he’s working real hard right now. I think we started to see, right before the injury this season, 'OK, here he comes,' with some of that explosiveness, and I think he’ll get that back. This isn’t a long-term thing. It’s fully recoverable. I’m just excited to see his growth. He knows what he needs to do, and he’s driven by that. Leonard Floyd, I think he’s the explosive player we expected. He’s going to get a little bigger and stronger as time goes on. I think he can be an impact player for us for a really long time.
How much has the growth of some of your key young players been limited by their injuries, and was that the most disappointing aspect this season, with missed opportunities for valuable playing time?
The injuries in some ways forced some guys to grow — the (Nick) Kwiatkoskis, the Cam Merediths. Really an injury led Jordan Howard to get out there sooner and flourish, so in some ways, there’s a silver lining to the injuries. But we talk about Year 2 growth, the fact that Kevin White and Eddie Goldman and Hroniss Grasu were hurt, that hurts that second-year growth. The good thing about those guys is that, with their professionalism and work ethic, I think they’ll overcome that.
Do have any more clarity about Alshon Jeffery’s value to this team after this season?
It’s not just the games, it’s being with him every day. When you first get in here, you’re trying to learn every single thing about your roster — not just the player on the field, but the heart and makeup of that person. So I think just being around Alshon for two years now, I have a real good feel for who he is, how driven he is and how much of a team guy he is. Alshon wants to win more than anybody, and I see him after a game and he’s passionately hurt by these losses. That means a lot to me because I feel the same way. You’re sick to your stomach. Unfortunately, he missed four games this year, and it was hard for him to get into a rhythm with all the changes that we had. But he’s a talented player, and that’s gonna be a real important decision this offseason.
Where do you feel your team’s strengths are two years in, and how close are you to establishing whatever identity you want this team to have?
I like the makeup and the character and the culture of the team. That’s kind of the first thing. You’ve got to get rid of any bad guys, and your roster can kind of flourish from there. I like the young talent that we talked about, whether it’s Cody Whitehair, or Floyd, or Meredith, or Howard, kind of have a base foundation of young talent. Now it’s on us to build on that foundation and keep adding to those young guys.
I’m sure you feel a certain amount of pressure after this season. What has it been like upstairs in the building, with all the (other management) people around you?
It’s actually been real good, and it stems from good communication. I’m as frustrated as anybody. I get it. This is hard. But these tough times can bring us closer together and kind of lock us in and make us a little more driven. There’s teams recently you can look at — Dallas, Oakland — who have quickly flipped it, but they’ve done it the right way, building through the draft and developing players. Sometimes, it’s a little painful, sometimes there’s growing pains, sometimes your patience gets tested. But you can’t deter that from doing things the right way and staying on course of building a team the right way.
Is that the message you’d like to share with Bears fans?
It bothers me when I walk through the stands and the tailgates. I see fans wearing jerseys of old players who are no longer here, and I get it. It’s on me to add talented players where they’re proud to wear the jersey of a new player we have because that player’s out there making plays and winning games for the Bears. I appreciate them. I know how passionate they are. I’m equally as passionate, and I promise you, we’re gonna get this rollin’.