The decision-makers at Halas Hall are headed for quite a complex situation in 2017, and yes, that starts at the top with the team’s general manager, Ryan Pace.
The Bears have gone 9-23 in Pace’s first two seasons as GM, and after 2017, he has just one year remaining on his contract. Given that his first few seasons in Chicago have been – at best – a mixed bag with tons of uncertainty, perhaps the dialed up heat isn’t entirely out of nowhere.
Indeed, Sports Illustrated even stoked the flame a bit lately, when it listed Pace as one of the NFL’s GMs who are under pressure entering 2017. But is that entirely fair?
Well, to be sure, Pace took over a sinking ship from the Phil Emery-Marc Trestman era, and had to oversee a teardown while undertaking a rebuild and trying to be competitive.
Operating on two different tracks isn’t easy for any front office executive, but the challenges Pace has faced in tearing down a team that was built to win in the short-term (despite lacking the talent to do so) have been quite the mountain to climb. So while Pace might not be on the hot seat right now necessarily, the pressure will surely start to build – and sooner rather than later.
Consider that 1) each of Pace’s three first-round picks have come with significant questions. Before injuries hindered Kevin White’s development, he only had one year of star-quality performance at West Virginia. Leonard Floyd has a frame that projects as a fearsome pass rusher, but he played at Georgia without a position and needed to be molded at the next level. And as for Mitch Trubisky, well, we’re still riding the that shockwave, and the jury isn’t really out.
And also, 2) some of his spending in free agency has been questionable, too. After all, filling holes with players on one-year “prove-it” deals after whiffing on a number of higher-caliber free agent talents isn’t a sustainable way to go about building a team.
HOWEVER, despite the current talent deficiencies throughout the roster, you could argue Pace has done more to help the team’s future than harm it.
Pace has presided over a roster overhaul that will feature only four players (Willie Young, Kyle Long, Charles Leno Jr., Kyle Fuller) who started during the Emery-Trestman years. That means a vast majority of the starters in 2017 will have been hand-picked by Pace.
This group could include at least six draft picks and three undrafted free agents (and that number could grow depending on how certain players develop this summer). Pace has also found some success in free agency, signing productive starters such as Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, and Pernell McPhee. If things go well in 2017, we could possibly add Quintin Demps, Jaye Howard, one of the several wide receivers brought into camp, and possibly even Mike Glennon to the group.
Fittingly, the man who could relieve the pressure on Pace is head coach John Fox – who is considered to be on the early season hot seat even more so than his boss. If Pace’s players take big developmental steps under Fox’s tutelage this year, then perhaps the combined pressure will be eased off both.
The Bears’ rebuild has had the look of a slow-turning semi-truck wrapping its way around a city’s intersection, but it does feel like the truck is beginning to straighten itself out. There is still plenty of work to be done, of course, and the “heat” won’t necessarily cool down anytime soon, but a successful developmental year in 2017 can go a long way to taking some pressure of the Bears GM.