GM Ryan Pace confirms draft role in Bears’ free-agent deliberations

GM Ryan Pace confirms draft role in Bears’ free-agent deliberations

When the Bears backed away from the escalating prices for free-agent cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore, and safety Tony Jefferson, it wasn't entirely about the money.
The Bears had the cash and cap space to sign more than one of the consensus top players at positions of critical need for the Bears. But GM Ryan Pace had laid out well before the negotiating and signing periods arrived that the Bears would be aggressive but not desperation-driven to the point of squandering money.
And Pace explained another crucial factor in the Bears' step back from the apparent best available options at those positions. It lies in the 2017 draft class, considered one of the best ever for cornerbacks and including safeties graded so highly that they were expected to be gone within the top 10 – possibly one to the Bears at No. 3.
The strategy is one of integration; a barren draft class likely would have ratcheted up the Bears' efforts on the players they passed on.
"You try to balance [draft possibilities] out a little bit," Pace said on Friday in advance of introductory press conferences for the newest four Bears free-agent signings. "Obviously we say we're taking best player available, but when you know that there's a position in the draft that's extremely deep, I think you can think, 'Hey, there might be a chance to address that there,' especially if something gets way out of whack, price-wise in free agency."
Something did get out of whack price-wise when contracts for Bouye and Gilmore guaranteed the cornerbacks money in the range of $40 million. The position commands a premium but elite money spent on non-elite talent is a mistake that extends beyond that one position.
"I said this before: you can recover from the player you didn't sign," Pace said. "You can't recover from the player you signed at the wrong price. We have to recognize that. I think if you look at most good teams around the league, they're usually built through the draft. There are a couple exceptions here or there, but we have to be mindful of that. and it's easy, guys, in these moments to say, 'let's do this extreme thing here.' I think a lot of times when you do that you're paying a player that amount of money, it's almost impossible for that player to reach those expectations."
Additionally, the Bears invested fourth-round picks at cornerback (Deiondre Hall) and safety (Deon Bush), both of whom figured prominently in plans before suffering injury setbacks. Pace and the Bears targeted a cornerback (Prince Amukamara) and safety (Quintin Demps) and are expected to return to the draft for top-end talent for their secondary.
"I think the best thing about free agency is if we can address some of our needs again. it opens up the draft for 'best player available,'" Pace said. "And then when we do that, it's just increasing out odds."

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

What the Bears did to the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday’s 31-24 defeat of the NFC East leaders was significant because of the complete offensive performance.

Based on quality of opponent, gravity of game and player performance, it was quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s career-best game. The 31 points scored by the offense was the most since the mauling of a JV Tampa Bay team last year (when Trubisky threw a career-high six touchdown passes).

And against the Cowboys the offense came back from difficult in-game situations twice.

It wasn’t the Bears that appeared to be settling into an identity that has eluded them through too much of the Matt Nagy era.

Reasons behind the performance against Dallas – collective and Trubisky’s individually – were far from exclusive to this game. Tight-end play, receivers and line doing their jobs are repeatable positives that tell fans an offensive performance like this can and should happen again, more than once.

The difference against the Cowboys? Nagy appeared to be settling into his own identity.

With varying levels of proficiency, his players were running what he laid out and told them to. That changed dramatically against Dallas.

Over the third quarter of the season and into the fourth with Dallas, Nagy has operated less like a coach forcing players into his system and more like a coach molding the offense around his players.

Maybe it was seeing first-hand how miserably coach Matt Patricia forcing the Detroit Lions into his iteration of the New England defense has worked. The Bears’ 2019 turnaround coincidentally started against the Lions.

Whatever the reason, Nagy appeared less lock-stepped with a significantly flawed pass-intensive plan (Green Bay, Oakland, New Orleans losses) that his own personal quarterback nature may prefer. Maybe this is his more adult inner-coach is taking charge.

Players, Trubisky foremost among them, could be excused for feeling some uncertainty about their offense when their coach didn’t have a clear sense of what that offense is or wants to be.

Not a “blame game” situation, however. Nagy, an inexperienced head coach, had a green quarterback on his hands. Trubisky’s true capabilities, comfort levels, and weaknesses are still evolving. Nagy is also dealing with the same route-running, drops, O-line issues and such that plagued Trubisky.

Critically, Nagy’s play-calling has leveled out without lapsing into predictability. He has been less riveted to a game concept with no regard for results and been more adaptable.

When the Bears won three straight to finish the season’s first quarter, Nagy had the offense run the football 29, 24 and 33 times. When he and the offense languished through four straight losses, the Bears ran the football 17, 7, 38 and 18 times.

Since then Nagy has called 24-24-26-23-34 runs and the Bears have won four of those last five.

That doesn’t make Nagy a runnin’ guy. It does, however, make the team better and improves his quarterback’s understanding of the offense.

“Probably three to four, five weeks ago, somewhere in that range where you really started to feel, ‘OK, we're moving the ball,’” Nagy said. “We felt it against the Chargers [when the Bears ran 38 times]. We just weren't good in the red zone, right? But we felt like, ‘OK we're moving the ball,’ that we were limiting three-and-outs.

“And ever since then there's just a great confidence amongst the teammates. They're feeling it, we're feeling it and I think it's reflecting in the game.”

Nowhere more apparent than with Trubisky against Dallas and hopefully going forward.

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NFC Wild Card Race: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 14

NFC Wild Card Race: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 14

The Bears did their part to keep their playoff hopes alive on Thursday night with a 31-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, thanks in large part to quarterback Mitch Trubisky's best game as a pro. But a slow start to the 2019 season and a 7-6 record means they still need a bunch of help to get into the post-season.

Here are the games Bears fans need to watch this Sunday.

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings - 12 p.m. CT (Only available on NFL Sunday Ticket)

The Vikings (8-4) currently have possession of the final NFC wild card and should maintain their position after facing the Lions (3-8-1) on Sunday.

Detroit is an absolute mess. Third-string quarterback David Blough will make the second start of his career, and while he had some encouraging moments against the Bears on Thanksgiving Day, the Vikings (unlike Chicago, who found out he was starting just moments before the game) have had a full week to prepare for him. Expect a bunch of turnovers.

It would be nothing short of a miracle if Minnesota blows this one. Expect the Vikings to move to 9-4 and keep hold of their 1.5-game lead over the Bears.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks - 7:20 p.m. CT on NBC (Click here to watch)

The other key matchup Bears fans should have an eye on in Week 14 is the Rams (7-5) vs. Seahawks (10-2). The Rams own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago because of their 17-7 win in Week 11, which means Los Angeles has to lose two of their final four games against Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco and Arizona (and that's assuming the Bears win-out).

The Rams should have little trouble defeating the Cowboys and Cardinals, so it's critical Seattle gives Bears fans one of those two necessary L.A. losses.

Green Bay Packers vs. Washington Redskins - 12 p.m. CT on FOX (Click here to watch)

Lastly, the Green Bay Packers (9-3) take on the Washington Redskins (3-9). Believe it or not, a Packers loss keeps hope alive for the Bears and an NFC North championship. A Redskins victory is highly unlikely, but they weren't supposed to defeat the Panthers last week, either.

It's pretty simple: Wins by the Lions, Seahawks and Redskins will make Week 15's game against the Packers one of the biggest regular-season games in a very, very long time.

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