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The Message of the Mack Trade

| September 1st, 2018

It’s on.

The time for patience has passed. The time for “Ryan Pace is building something interesting” has come and gone. The time for taking an emotionally balanced approach to this Chicago Bears campaign has boarded the 8:30 AM bus to, I don’t know, like three hours ago! (Forgive the shitty writing there but I’m pretty damn excited and I can’t wrap my head around all of this yet.)

It is on.

Does this move to acquire Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders mean they are a contender for the Super Bowl this season? I’d love to write a definitive NO. I’d love to echo Data’s contention that teams don’t go from crap to contender overnight. I’d love to write about the young, developing quarterback and the new coach/system and the quality opponents in the division and the blah blah blabbedy blah.

Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t want to write about any of those things. Because, as you might have noticed, it is definitively on.

In giving up multiple first-round selections for Mack, Pace is announcing that his team as presently built is ready to win far more games than they lose. In paying Mack a pile of money for his services, Pace is announcing that he’s ready to strike Super Bowl gold while his chosen quarterback is still operating on his rookie contract. Fans no longer have reason to be patient because today the Chicago Bears made the most thrillingly impatient move in the history of the franchise.

This wasn’t Jerry Angelo making the move for Jay Cutler. Sure, that was exciting but it was also bringing in a quarterback to a franchise that had never really had one. You can’t win consistently without a quarterback and Angelo understood that.

This move for Mack is about fortification. It is about fixing the only true hole in the defensive dam. It is a clear statement to the fan base that the Bears are not content with being one of the best defenses in the league. They want to be THE BEST. And with Mack added to this unit, they now have every opportunity to be just that.

Isn’t this what we always wanted? Weren’t we all tired of constantly settling for less-than-elite talent at positions across the field? This was the crux of The Great Cutler Debate (“not good enough to win championships”). This has been the crux of the Adrian Amos/PFF nonsense (“he’s a good player, stop believing he’s one of the league’s best”). Bears fans have grown accustomed to a roster of good players who struggle mightily when they square off with great ones, i.e. the fella playing quarterback up in Green Bay.

Today, Ryan Pace got a great one. That’s what Mack is. A great player at one of the most important positions in the sport. With great players come great expectations. Those expectations exist in Chicago, right now.

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Bears Have Increased Their Talent Level. Now, Can They Stay Healthy?

| May 29th, 2018

There has been a growing feeling among local and national media alike this offseason that the Bears are a team on the rise. Several writers have pegged them as one of the most improved teams in the NFL through both the draft and free agency. Peter King recently declared they had “the best offseason of any team in football.”

It’s no secret that the writers for this site all agree the Bears are poised to make a jump in 2018 (though I have cautioned against letting expectations get too high), but today I want to address the elephant in the room: health.

To put it frankly, the Bears can’t expect to be better than the last few years unless they can find a way to stay healthier. In the last four seasons, Chicago has won 5, 6, 3, and 5 games, and in that time they have consistently been among the most injured teams in the NFL, ranking 27th, 28th, 32nd, and 31st in Football OutsidersAdjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric. This is a useful metric because it weighs starters as more valuable than backups and accounts for playing through injuries as well (click the link above for a more detailed description of how it’s calculated).


By the Numbers

In an attempt to quantify the impact injuries have on team performance, I looked at how well teams did compared to how they ranked in the AGL for that season. I looked at the last five years, giving a sample size of 160 teams, and split them into quartiles (8 teams per group per year, so 40 total). Results can be seen in the table below.

[Editor’s Note: Nope, you’re not alone. I had never heard the word “quartile” either.]

These results clearly show the importance of staying healthy.

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Like ‘Em or Not, These Are the Chicago Bears For the Foreseeable Future

| May 22nd, 2018

Since Ryan Pace showed up in 2015, there has been nearly complete roster turnover, with only Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Sherrick McManis, and Pat O’Donnell remaining from the previous regime. Every single offseason has seen significant changes, with a host of prominent players leaving and a sizable new batch of faces coming in.

Consequently, Bears fans are used to offseasons of sweeping change. But that pattern should end in 2019. To understand why, let’s look at who is already under contract on both sides of the ball.


Offense

Key players under contract: QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Jordan Howard, RB Tarik Cohen, WR Allen Robinson, WR Taylor Gabriel, WR Anthony Miller, WR Javon Wims, TE Trey Burton, TE Adam Shaheen, LT Charles Leno, LG James Daniels, C Cody Whitehair, RG Kyle Long

Notable free agents: RT Bobby Massie, Eric Kush

Possible Cap Casualties: RG Kyle Long, TE Dion Sims

Chicago’s offense is young and locked-in for the next two years. Nobody on this list except Kyle Long is over 28 years old, and over half of these players are still on rookie deals. 2018 should see the best offense the Bears have had since 2013 (not exactly stiff competition) and there’s every expectation at this point that the same group returning basically intact in 2019 should be even better.

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The Bears Are Young. How Did Ryan Pace Do It?

| May 15th, 2018

When Ryan Pace showed up following the 2014 season, he inherited the 3rd oldest roster in the NFL. The Bears were both old and bad – the worst possible roster combination. In 2018, they will be one of the youngest teams in the league.

The progress has been slow. They moved from 30th the year before Pace came to 19th in 2015 to 10th in 2016, but then stepped back to 22nd in 2017 thanks largely to a number of ill-fated free agent moves (hello, Mike Glennon, Markus Wheaton, and Quentin Demps!). We won’t know the exact numbers until rosters are cut down, but the Bears’ average age in 2018 is going to be somewhere around 25 years old, which will likely place them as one of the 5 youngest teams in the league.

Looking at their 90-man roster right now, there are only 4 players who will be 30 when the season starts: backup QB Chase Daniels and 3 guys who are primarily special teamers (Sherrick McManis, Patrick Scales, and Sam Acho). On the flip side, there will be a host of key players who are under 25, include Mitchell Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Anthony Miller, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith, and Eddie Jackson. To put into perspective just how young the Bears will be, the 26 year old Leonard Floyd will be above average for a starter.

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The Pace Priorities: Examining the GM’s Positional Values Through Draft Investment

| May 8th, 2018

Ryan Pace has now had four drafts with the Chicago Bears, meaning that everybody playing on a rookie deal in Chicago was acquired by him. Accordingly, I think it’s worth looking at what positions in which he has invested the most and least draft capital.

This will give us an idea of what positions Pace prioritizes, and also help us see where the Bears might need to focus their draft attention in the next few years. It’s worth noting that free agency decisions and how well players pan out influence these too, but I think you’ll see positions which have been ignored in the draft are largely the ones with the biggest roster needs.


Heavy Investment

There are several positions where Ryan Pace has made a significant investment with high draft picks, seeming to indicate these are the positions he values most on the roster. Let’s look at what the positions are, what the draft investment has been, and what the future looks like at those positions.

  • Quarterback: Ryan Pace has spent only one pick on a quarterback, snagging Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, but he traded up to the 2nd pick in the draft to do so. At a position where only one player plays, a top 5 pick is a heavy investment, and they don’t figure to be investing additional significant draft capital at the position for at least a few more years.

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Data Entry: Reflections on the 2018 NFL Draft Haul

| May 1st, 2018

Before the draft, I looked in-depth at Ryan Pace’s draft trends from 2015-17 and used them to make predictions for what would happen in 2018. Well, it turns out Pace’s approach changed a good bit this year. Let’s look at those identified trends to see which ones were and were not followed.


Day One

  • Go get your guy. The Bears reportedly tried to trade up from pick #8 to get somebody Ryan Pace really wanted. He continues to be very aggressive targeting his chosen players at the top of the draft.
  • Replace a veteran. Every round one pick has been made to replace a high-profile veteran who recently left. That continued this year with Roquan Smith replacing Jerrell Freeman.
  • Prototype prospects. Pace loves his athletes at the top of the draft, but that changed a bit this year. Roquan Smith is still extremely athletic, but he was not the physical prototype Tremaine Edmunds was. Pace went for the better player right now instead of the player with the highest ceiling, a definite shift in approach.

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Change in Draft Strategy Signals Transition for Ryan Pace’s Chicago Bears

| April 30th, 2018

An NFL franchise does not begin the process of rebuilding until they find their quarterback. They can change coaches and front office personnel. They can turn over their roster; get younger, quicker, more athletic. But until they find the man who will play the most important position in all of sports, they can’t pretend what they are building is a team capable of contending consistently, year in, year out.

Ryan Pace has his quarterback. And he treated the 2018 NFL Draft differently because of it. No longer was the young GM looking for freakish athleticism and under-performing college guys with upside. No longer was he willing to bypass win-now needs for the myth of “best player available”. All but one of the seven players selected by Pace and his staff over three days in Dallas fit a clear and distinct need for this franchise now, today, for the 2018 campaign.

Roquan Smith, James Daniels and Anthony Miller will be in starting roles against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, September 9th. If they’re not, it’s a problem.

The Bears needed a rotational defensive end, edge rusher and more receiving help. They drafted Bilal Nichols, Kylie Fitts and Javon Wims respectively. None of these three are guaranteed contributors – nobody on day three is – but that doesn’t mean the Bears didn’t draft them to be. There are no developmental prospects in this group. These guys are going to be asked to play the positions they played well in college at the next level.

The outlier of the class is Joel Iyegbuniwe – an inside linebacker who will have a difficult time getting on the field this coming season, outside of special teams. But if the correlating move involves Nick Kwiatkoski moving out to the edge – a position of need – then it fits comfortably into this new draft narrative for Pace.

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s draft profile, day 3

| April 17th, 2018

The last in a three-part series, breaking down Ryan Pace’s approach to the NFL Draft when it comes to prospects. Today, day three, rounds four through seven.


Draft History

2015: RB Jeremy Langford (R4), S Adrian Amos (R5), T Tayo Fabuluje (R6)

2016: LB Nick Kwiatkoski (R4), S Deon Bush (R4), CB Deiondre’ Hall (R4), RB Jordan Howard (R5), S DeAndre Houston-Carson (R6), WR Daniel Braverman (R7)

2017: S Eddie Jackson (R4), RB Tarik Cohen (R4), OL Jordan Morgan (R5)


Trend 1

Prioritize Rounds 4-5

Under Ryan Pace, the Bears are averaging two round 4 picks per year and are currently slated to have two in 2018. They will potentially have more if Pace trades down in round 2 again, as is he wont.

The Bears also acquired a fifth round pick in the Brandon Marshall deal. These are the rounds where he likes to operate, and he has done quite well, landing five solid contributors in three years: Adrian Amos, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jordan Howard, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen.

On the flip side, Pace doesn’t seem to care much about round 6 or 7, where he has made only three picks total through three years. He’s made several trades sending these picks out.

  • 6th for Khari Lee
  • Throw-ins for a trade on day two that netted extra 4ths
  • 6th to move up for Kwiatkoski
  • Throw-in 7th to get 5th back when trading Brandon Marshall to Jets
  • Conditional 2018 7th for Inman that they kept in 2018.

Don’t be surprised to see one of those traded away, perhaps to help move up for a coveted player in round 4.

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Across The Middle: Be Prepared To Be Surprised (With an Emphasis on Denzel Ward)

| April 11th, 2018

In 2016, outside linebacker was considered a strength for the Bears after Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Pernell McPhee combined for 20.5 sacks. Ryan Pace drafted Leonard Floyd in the first round.

In 2017, the Bears overpaid Mike Glennon and raved about his upside (“fired up”). They signed Mark Sanchez as a competent backup. Ryan Pace drafted Mitch Trubisky.

Those moves weren’t about value dropping to them. They weren’t about “best player available”. In both instances, Pace traded up for the player and surprised many by drafting what wasn’t considered a need.

The lesson is clear. How the Bears identify their needs is not necessarily how the media and fans identify them. And it isn’t just the first round.

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s Draft Profile, Day 2

| April 10th, 2018

Now that Ryan Pace has been here a while, it’s possible to look at his past drafts to see what lessons can be learned from his approach. This can help us cautiously look ahead to the 2018 draft to see what he might be thinking.

With that goal in mind, I’m going to spend three weeks looking at how Pace has approached the three days of the draft, and then applying that approach to 2018 to see what players are likely being considered for the Bears this year. I looked at day 1 last week, so today will be day 2 (rounds 2-3).


Draft History

2015: Eddie Goldman, DT, 39th pick; Hroniss Grasu, C, 71st pick

2016: Cody Whitehair, OL, 56th pick (after 2 trade downs); Jonathan Bullard, DL, 72nd pick

2017: Adam Shaheen, TE, 45th pick (after trading down)

Trend 1: Trade Down

Ryan Pace has been a big fan of trading down for extra picks in round 2. He did it twice before selecting Cody Whitehair in 2016 and once before taking Adam Shaheen in 2017. Given that the Bears are short a third round pick this year, I think he will be working the phones looking to do that again in round 2.  Read More …

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