Ryan Pace is all in on 2020.
That’s not us opining on the job security of the Bears general manager in Year 6, mind you; it’s an obvious conclusion drawn by anyone watching closely how his Bears are attacking free agency.
From back-loaded deals for defensive difference-makers on the cusp of 30 (Robert Quinn, Danny Trevathan) to a feet-to-the-fire trade borne from familiarity (Nick Foles) to a head-in-the-sand “Hail Mary” (Jimmy Graham), Pace’s four big acquisitions each make it abundantly clear where the Bears stand.
And with a high-priced defense built to win now and become cost-prohibitive sooner than later, it’s a reasonable — if not the only — strategy.
However, it comes with yet another potentially large internal debate for Pace, who couldn’t have come to the decisions easily to replace Leonard Floyd and at least set the stage to replace his next first-round selection, Mitch Trubisky.
Pace’s tenure might be in peril beyond this season, first and foremost, because of his inability to hit on a quarterback. Again, if you’ve been paying close attention, this isn’t up for debate, and whether you think that the costly acquisition of Foles will be a hit is a separate debate.
The facts are that Pace’s three earnest swings at a quarterback in his first five-plus years on the job have all been for the fences, in part because he’s yet to shorten his stroke and settle for a potential single or double. (Think we’re missing the start of baseball season?)
We’re of course alluding to his failure to spend any of his 15 draft picks preceding the Trubisky trade or subsequent 16 selections at the position, in addition to the lone free-agent signing of Glennon in an attempt to stabilize not only his franchise’s but one of the league’s wobblier QB situations for decades.
Sure, Pace inherited Jay Cutler and his albatross extension done by predecessor Phil Emery, but it was at his introductory news conference to replace Emery that Pace now infamously said he subscribed to Hall of Famer Ron Wolf’s philosophy of drafting quarterbacks annually.
But let’s not get lost in the weeds here. What’s done is done, and what Pace does next month in his sixth draft perhaps will be most telling. See, if his Bears truly are all in on 2020, they still undoubtedly need to secure at least a couple of instant contributors with their precious seven draft picks — including only two in the top 162.
Suffice to say after acquiring Foles, barring an unforeseen disaster, the Bears no longer seek a potential rookie QB contributor. Should they, then, patch up the offensive line and perhaps WR corps or defensive backfield in Round 2 and save a later-round selection at quarterback?
To wit: save for the 2011 and ’14 drafts, which produced Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick, and Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo in the second rounds, respectively, teams over the past decade have had better success in Round 3 (Colt McCoy, Russell Wilson, Foles) and on Day 3 (Tyrod Taylor, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Gardner Minshew) than they have drafting quarterbacks in the second round, which has yielded a long line of squandered picks.
Is Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts going to last until the third round, where the Bears would need to trade down to dance? Are we more intrigued by Anthony Gordon than Pace and Matt Nagy? Could a fire break out from the various reported smoke signs connecting the Bears to FIU’s James Morgan? Perhaps there’s another Day 3 prospect that’s piquing the Bears’ interest?
Because of Pace’s aggressive draft history, we also can't entirely discount the possibility that he's eyeing another trade-up, either. But while it may cause some internal conflict for those pining for him to draft another quarterback, it's easy enough to see why Pace probably would be best served going yet another year without spending a premium pick at the position.