The Chicago Bears made headlines all offseason. A new head coach, big-name free agents and a widely praised draft class has drawn comparisons to the Los Angeles Rams efforts that led to a miraculous turnaround and playoff berth in only one season.
According to ESPN's recent poll of 12 NFL executives, the Bears' moves weren't necessarily perfect. In fact, they received a B- for their offseason grade.
This Bears offseason comes down to whether Matt Nagy is the right choice as head coach. Most execs liked the decision to select Roquan Smith eighth overall, despite some concerns over positional value for a 3-4 inside linebacker that early. They were less thrilled about the offensive skill players Chicago added in free agency. They loved the decision to use the transition tag for cornerback Kyle Fuller despite some questions about the price paid.
Taylor Gabriel was cited as a "bad contract" in free agency. That's not necessarily a shocking opinion given Gabriel's lacking history of production. He's never emerged as more than a third or fourth option in a passing game. That said, he played his last two seasons in Atlanta where the passing game started and stopped with Julio Jones, and before that was with the Browns where receivers go to die.
Gabriel will play the zebra position in Nagy's offense. It's a role that will accentuate his strengths; he'll gain a ton of yards after the catch and show off his straight-line speed down the field. A bad contract now could turn into a great one by season's end.
The reality is that all decisions in free agency and the draft are gambles. If Robinson's knee becomes bothersome during the season or Smith has trouble adjusting to NFL speed, all of the moves praised in May and June will be criticized in November and December.
This offseason feels a little different, however. Ryan Pace made calculated decisions with an obvious plan in mind. He signed and drafted specific players for that plan, and in t-shirt and shorts season, those decisions look like good ones.
Receiving a B- from his colleagues isn't something to brag about, but it certainly could be worse for Pace and the Bears.
Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace made the second-most important decision of his tenure with the team when he hired Matt Nagy to replace John Fox as head coach this offseason. The coaching hire, combined with the trade for Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft, will dictate how long Pace sits atop the front office, and, how long it takes for the Bears to get back to contender status.
The fourth-year GM is confident he made the right call with Nagy.
“I feel we got the right guy, and it gets reaffirmed every day,” Pace said via The Athletic's Dan Pompei. “There are times when I’m with him and he’ll do something, he’ll say something, and I’ll think, ‘That’s really good.’ There are certain traits we were looking for, and he hit them all and exceeded them.”
Nagy has re-energized Halas Hall. He's bringing an innovative offensive approach while maintaining the history of a franchise best known for defensive dominance. His methods have Pace excited, especially when he watches the first-year coach at work.
With an offensive turnaround expected under Nagy's watch, Pace can't help but get enthused when he sees Nagy and the rest of the offense's brain trust actively designing plays in his office on the wall-sized whiteboard.
“You walk in there and almost every square inch of it is plays drawn up,” Pace said. “It’s cool to walk down there and see him and his coaches all collaborate and thinking. It’s a fun time.”
The Bears haven't been fun for quite a while. With training camp quickly approaching, it'll be up to Nagy and his staff to keep the energy level high so having fun flips to securing wins in the fall.
The Chicago Bears have an exciting wide receiver room this season with the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller. Former first-round pick Kevin White is even getting some love in offseason workouts. But could the depth chart have been even better?
According to Bleacher Report, GM Ryan Pace's decision to let Cameron Meredith leave town was the team's biggest offseason mistake.
The Bears don't appear to have made many mistakes this offseason, but letting restricted free agent Cam Meredith get away could come back to bite general manager Ryan Pace.
While Meredith missed the entire 2017 season after suffering a horrific knee injury during the preseason, he looked like a breakout star in 2016. The Illinois State product caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four scores that season, despite playing mostly with backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.
Pace's approach to Meredith was a curious one. Whether it was the receiver's poor fit in the new offense or a concern about his recovery from knee surgery, the same issues or concerns could be raised about Robinson, whom the Bears signed to a three-year, $42 million deal. Both Robinson and Meredith are now participating in on-field drills which suggests their scheduled recovery time is pretty similar.
Meredith had a breakout season in 2016, the year that was supposed to belong to White. Meredith quickly developed into the offense's primary target after White fractured his ankle in Week 4. He finished the year with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns and was a popular choice to emerge as one of the league's top young receivers in 2017. Then came the devastating preseason knee injury.
The Bears began the offseason with a clear plan and it's pretty obvious that Meredith was never a big part of it. The speed at which Pace acted to sign Robinson and Gabriel, while Meredith remained dangling as a restricted free agent, is proof of that.
Meredith should enjoy a productive season with the Saints. In fact, he could end up with better numbers than one or more of the Bears' starters. If that happens, Pace will have even more questions to answer about why he let him go.