Bears

Ryan Pace’s history could point Bears toward WR at No. 7

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Ryan Pace’s history could point Bears toward WR at No. 7

Bears general manager Ryan Pace was clear on one point of franchise philosophy:

“I don’t think you can have enough good pass rushers,” he said during the NFL owners meetings. “I think Seattle is an example of that. So if the right pass rusher is there in the first round, we’ll take that.”

What Pace, himself a former college defensive end, has done in his first pass through free agency as GM has been eminently consistent with his beliefs, particularly with a defense switching to a rush-focused 3-4 scheme.

But the growing question is whether or not there in fact is an “enough,” and whether Pace and coach John Fox are preparing to strike in a direction breaking from their respective experiences in New Orleans (Pace) and Denver/Carolina/New York Giants (Fox).

That looming other “direction” is wide receiver.

[MORE: Bears say goodbye to Charles Tillman as he reunites with Ron Rivera in Carolina]

It’s both a matter of what Pace has done — cut Brandon Marshall, sign multiple pass-rush options in free agency — and what he hasn’t done — pursue a top starter-grade wideout…yet.

And there are enough trace elements of elite-receiver targeting in Pace’s background to form more than idle musing that he would go there.

Securing

Both Pace and Fox come from organizations with draft traditions deeply rooted on defense. Fox was with the New York Giants when GM’s George Young and Ernie Accorsi also went for running backs high in drafts, which Fox continued when he went to Carolina.

But consider: Pace was hired in 2001 as a Saints assistant. New Orleans selected Donte’ Stallworth with the 13th pick of the 2002 draft, Devery Henderson in the 2004 second round, Robert Meacham 27th in 2007, and Brandon Cooks with the 20th in 2014.

All wide receivers.

The Denver Broncos chose defensive players with all four of their first picks in Fox’s tenure there. And Carolina’s drafts for Fox were defense-oriented at the top.

But the New York Giants used the No. 7 pick in 1997, Fox’s first year as Giants defensive coordinator, on Florida wideout Ike Hilliard. Last year, Fox’s last in Denver, the Broncos took wideout Cody Latimer in the second round.

Past choices in drafts don’t definitively show what GMs and coaches will do in the present or future. But the patterns that Fox and Pace witnessed and were part of represent some of their experiences on how successful franchises built themselves. All of which make the trails of breadcrumbs worth studying.

Looking for the 'enough'

Pace has been good to his and Fox’s words on pass rushers in free agency. Teams frequently address what they consider their primary needs in free agency, thus giving themselves options in the draft for best-available-athletes and/or a specific job (quarterback). Pace, Fox and the Bears went aggressively after rush-linebackers but notably did not address a gaping void at wide receiver created with the release of Marshall.

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That solution may lie in the draft, with the Bears among those hosting a visit by West Virginia wideout Kevin White earlier this month and expected to visit with Alabama’s Amari Cooper. Both are possessed of speed found nowhere on the Bears’ current wide receiver depth chart.

Already stocking pass rushers

Coincidentally, former GM Phil Emery’s signature signings in 2014 were defensive ends for a 4-3: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young. Pace has waded into his own first free agency with signings targeting pass rushers, but for a 3-4.

Pace’s acquisitions project to six new starters on defense: two-thirds of the defensive line (Jarvis Jenkins, Ray McDonald), three-fourths of the linebackers (Sam Acho, Mason Foster, Pernell McPhee) and half of the safeties (Antrel Rolle).

The cluster of linebacker transactions, combined with the stated plan to move Lamarr Houston from end back to outside linebacker, spotlighted pass rushers: Acho, McPhee, plus Houston. Houston’s return from a torn ACL makes him less than a given. But the Bears also have Allen, David Bass and Young as competition for edge-rusher spots, in addition to Jonathan Bostic and Shea McClellin competing for roster spots on the inside.

Complicating the equation (and that is in fact one of ideas behind the switch to a 3-4: becoming complicated) is that both Acho and McPhee are mobile and have rushed from inside starting points.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Teddy Bridgewater too expensive for the Bears?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Teddy Bridgewater too expensive for the Bears?

Laurence Holmes, JJ Stankevitz and Mark Grote join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - The pressure continues to mount on Rob Manfred as the Astros scandal lingers. He apologized on Tuesday but should that be enough for him to keep his job?

17:00 - Drew Brees is heading back to New Orleans, so Teddy Bridgewater will be looking for a new home. The guys discuss if he'll be too expensive for the Bears. if he is, who could come to Chicago to join Mitch in the QB room at Halas Hall?

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TE Greg Olsen signed with Seattle Seahawks, previously hoped Bears would contact him

TE Greg Olsen signed with Seattle Seahawks, previously hoped Bears would contact him

Former Bears first-round pick TE Greg Olsen officially signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks. Olsen previously played with the Bears and Panthers over a 13-year NFL career.

After mutually parting ways with the Panthers, the 34-year-old hoped the Bears, the team that drafted him in 2007, would reach out about signing him once he hit free agency. He told ESPN’s Waddle and Silvy that he wanted to come home to Chicago but wasn't contacated by Bears' management.

RELATED: Now that he's retired, what's next for Kyle Long?

One of the Bears biggest needs this offseason is an upgrade at TE and Olsen’s pass-catching experience along with his working knowledge of the Bears' organization makes him a seemingly ideal fit for the team. Ryan Pace disagreed and the chance for a reunion is gone for good. While his age is showing (he appeared in only 16 games in 2017 and 2018 combined), Olsen is still a stronger receiver than anyone currently on the Bears depth chart.

Interestingly enough, one of Olsen's best moments as a Bear came during Chicago's playoff win against the Seahawks in January 2011 when he scored a touchdown after catching a 58-yard pass from Jay Cutler in the first quarter.  

We will see if Pace regrets not giving Olsen a call. It would be the breakup movie of the season. Too bad the Bears would be playing the part of the groveling ex-boyfriend. Until then, Bears’ fans can imagine a scenario where Pace or head coach Matt Nagy chases after Olsen in the rain (which makes perfect sense, seeing as he’ll be in Seattle), holding a boom box over his head, begging him to return to Soldier Field. That’s the sports rom-com we all deserve in 2020. 

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