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Should Pace Get Another Shot at QB? History Shows Patience with Young GM Has Value.

| June 30th, 2020

As the fate of the Bears franchise rests on their ability to find a franchise quarterback, it is easy to question a general manager who has missed at the position so often. But history suggests Ryan Pace has as good a shot at finding the team’s first franchise quarterback in more than 50 years as anyone else does. Because if there is one thing that can be gleaned from studying how some of the best franchises in the NFL have obtained their leading signal callers, it’s simply that finding quarterbacks is an inexact science that can have many misses before a big hit.

The gold standard team in the NFL is the New England Patriots. They built their dynasty on the back of a sixth-round quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady. But, before we give them too much credit for some secret they knew but the rest of the world didn’t, we should probably ask why they didn’t take Brady earlier.

The Patriots have more hits than Brady. They took Matt Cassel in the seventh, Jimmy Garoppolo in the second and Jacoby Brissett in the third. All three eventually became valuable trade pieces. But there’s also Zac Robinson in the seventh in 2010, Ryan Mallett in the third in 2011 and, if they really had that much faith in 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, they wouldn’t have signed Cam Newton on Sunday. Because they hit on Brady, they have had the benefit of letting other players develop and play in a consistent offensive scheme while they have continued to win games. It’s easy to develop talent at a position when those players never have to contribute.

And, of course, we can look at Green Bay.

Can you imagine the outrage we’d see today if a team traded a current first round pick for a player who was drafted in the second round and barely made the roster the year before? That’s how Ron Wolf grabbed Brett Favre. And he deserves credit for finds like Mark Brunell in the fifth, Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth and Aaron Brooks in the fourth — although that one is debatable. Wolf also drafted guys you’ve never heard of like Jay Barker and Kyle Wachholtz.

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Ryan Pace Has Gone All-In on the 2020 Season

| June 24th, 2020

After a disappointing 8-8 season, Ryan Pace moved aggressively this off-season to revamp the Bears for 2020.

On defense, he re-signed Danny Trevathan, upgraded Leonard Floyd with Robert Quinn, signed Tashaun Gipson as a cheap replacement for HaHa Clinton-Dix, and drafted Jaylon Johnson to replace the aging Prince Amukamara.

On offense, he traded for Nick Foles to compete with upgrade Mitchell Trubisky, replaced oft-injured veterans Taylor Gabriel, Kyle Long, and Trey Burton with Ted Ginn, Germain Ifedi, and Jimmy Graham, and drafted Cole Kmet to hopefully give Chicago their first long-term solution at tight end since Greg Olsen was shipped out of town a decade ago.

That’s an impressively long list of moves for a team that entered the off-season with surprisingly low amounts of cap space and draft capital. And it has left the Bears with what appears to be a pretty solid roster, at least on paper, though it’s fair to say that questions at quarterback certainly limit the optimism.

But things start to look much more questionable when you gaze beyond 2020. You see, the only way Pace could spend money this off-season was by borrowing from the future salary cap, and he did that quite heavily. Several players have had their contracts restructured within the last year+ to clear up immediate cap space by moving money to 2021 and beyond. This totaled around $20M from a combination of Khalil Mack ($7.8M), Kyle Fuller ($4.5M), Charles Leno ($4.2M), and Cody Whitehair ($3.2M).

On top of that, most contracts Pace handed out this off-season were absurdly back loaded.

  • Robert Quinn has a $6M 2020 cap hit on what is essentially a 3 year, $43M deal (a 2020 savings of over $8M from the average cap hit for the deal). The downside is he will still have total cap charges of $37M remaining in 2021 and beyond, and will likely only play in Chicago for 2021-2022. To make matters worse, those will be his age 31 and 32 seasons, when his play will likely start to slip. He’s a speed rusher that relies heavily on that one skill, so it’s possible that decline will be very pronounced.
  • Danny Trevathan has a $4.2M 2020 cap hit on what is essentially a three-year, $21.7M deal. That saves about $3M in 2020 cap, but means the Bears will still have $17.5M on cap charges for his remaining 2 seasons, in which he will be 31 and 32 and likely start to see his play decline.
  • Jimmy Graham has a $6M 2020 cap hit on what is essentially a one-year, $9M deal. That saves $3M in 2020, but means the Bears will have that cap hit in 2021 when he is likely not on the team (if he is on the team, he’ll have a $10M cap hit, which is not ideal for a player who will turn 35 during that season and has already started showing signs of decline).

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Nick Foles Will Be the Starting Quarterback

| June 1st, 2020


For the Bears, there is no more important issue looming than which man will be under center receive the shotgun snap when the Bears take the field against Detroit in Week One. Today I want to dig into the stats to see what we can learn about Foles vs. Trubisky, as well as what to expect from whoever wins that derby compared to other QBs around the NFL.

The table below shows basic efficiency statistics for Trubisky and Foles in the Reid offense (so Trubisky in 2018-19 in Chicago and Foles in 2016 in KC and 17-18 in Philadelphia), plus the other three notable recent Reid QBs (Smith 13-17, Mahomes 18-19, Wentz 16-19). I’ll note I included playoff stats for everybody because otherwise Foles’ sample size is just so small (less than 350 with just regular season, just over 500 with playoffs included). I also included the NFL average for 2018-19 as a frame of reference for what’s roughly normal around the league. I split up the data into short and long passes (targeted more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) using Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.

That’s a lot of information to digest, so let’s look at short and deep passes separately.


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On Ryan Pace’s Sturdy, Steady Second-Round Selections

| April 26th, 2020


On Friday night, I floated the idea of the Bears trading back in the second round to a friend of mine – a scout for another team in the NFC. He quickly shot back, “Pace shouldn’t back up too far. After about 65, there’s a big drop-off in this class.”

This is the kind of things scouts love to say.

Is it true? Who the hell knows? But what is important is the perception of its truth. If my scout friend believes the 2020 NFL Draft was 65 players deep, so does his organization. If his organization believes that, rest assured it is common throughout the league.

Thus, there was not much jockeying for position in the first and second rounds this year. Teams believed they would get a terrific prospect no matter where they selected. Maybe Ryan Pace had offers, maybe he didn’t. We won’t know and he won’t tell us. And now, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is how Pace approached the second round. His two selections – Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet and Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson – were not reaches. They were not gambles on potential, on athletic ability. They were two of the steadiest, sturdiest prospects in the whole of this draft. Immediately after their selection, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah pronounced, “No first-round pick for the Bears but I think you can argue they got two first-round players.” Every relevant person I texted with Friday night seemed to echo this sentiment.

These are the kinds of picks a team confidently makes when they think they are close. And the Bears are close, especially with Nick Foles’ professionalism taking over under center. The club had needs for September: defensive back, interior offensive line, tight end, speed outside. They addressed two of them. Simple as that. Kmet and Johnson will expected to contribute/start immediately. I’ll state that again. Kmet and Johnson will expected to contribute/start immediately.

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ATM: Is Ryan Pace’s Former Crush Marcus Mariota the Right Target?

| March 3rd, 2020

Ryan Pace’s first draft quarterback crush could be the guy who saves his job.

The young GM had been on the job for just a few months and the rumor mill was swirling. The thought was that he wanted to package Jay Cutler with the seventh overall pick for the second pick and the chance to select Marcus Mariota. When asked about the possible trade, Pace didn’t say much. He also didn’t deny it.

The Titans balked and took Mariota. The Bears stayed at seven, took Kevin White and stuck with Cutler for two more years. It’s safe to say they might both have been worse off than if they had just done the deal.

On the surface Mariota doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade over Trubisky.

  • Mariota has a career passer rating of 89.6, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt and throws touchdowns on 4.4 percent of his attempts.
  • Trubisky’s rating sits at 85.8 with 6.7 yards per attempt and a touchdown percentage of 3.8.
  • The Titans have gone 29-32 in Mariota’s starts and their offense exploded in 2019 after he was benched and another former first round disappointment Ryan Tannehill led them to the AFC Championship game.
  • The Bears have gone 23-18 with Trubisky.

But the raw numbers don’t really tell the story of Mariota. Or Trubisky, for that matter.

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Defending Ryan Pace. Well, Sorta.

| January 7th, 2020


Grading NFL general managers is not a simple process. Most are happy with hit rates of 50% in the draft. Most make mistakes in free agency. Most haven’t created perfect rosters because the salary cap makes a “perfect roster” impossible. Most get a coach hire wrong at some stage.

Ryan Pace took over the Bears after they had just completed the most embarrassingly pitiful defensive season in franchise history. He took them over after a season where they embarrassed the city and fan base on and off the field. Five years later they have the most talented defensive roster in the league. Five years later they are a tight, cohesive group. That’s not easy. Everyone doesn’t do that. As a friend, who scouts for another franchise told me, “it’s a top five roster”.

But Pace, to the objective eye, has three deficient positions. And they’re not minor.


Quarterback.

He loved Marcus Mariota. Mariota is not any good.

He thought Mike Glennon could hold down the fort for a year and lead the Bears to a winning season. Glennon is not any good.

He has seemingly put his career on the line for Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky, it turns out, is not any good.

Pay no attention to the lip service paid at the postseason press conference. Pace is not going to let Trubisky go unchallenged into 2020 and risk his entire tenure on one of the game’s worst quarterbacks. Pace is beloved by ownership. They want desperately for him to be at the helm of football operations for years to come. But they will not patiently allow Trubisky to destroy what they believed was built in 2018.

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ATM: Welcome to the Hot Seat, Ryan Pace

| November 5th, 2019

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ryan Pace’s job is safe. But should it be?

The 2019 Bears are looking at a 6-10 season, just one win better than the embarrassing, dysfunctional 2014 team Pace inherited. We haven’t gotten the consecutive embarrassing losses or locker room fights like we did in 2014, but there’s still time.

The talent levels of the teams aren’t all that different when you consider very few of the offensive starters from the 2019 version would start for the 2014 team and the gigantic difference at quarterback. This defense is a lot better than the 2014 unit but you could still argue a couple defenders from that squad — Jay Ratliff and Willie Young — would start on this year’s defense.

2019 will never reach 2014 in terms of dysfunction, but they may be well past them in terms of disappointment.

The Bears will be winning fewer than eight games for the fourth time in Pace’s five years as general manager and his decision to take Mitchell Trubisky over a sure thing in Deshaun Watson and a guy some already consider to be the best quarterback they’ve ever seen in Patrick Mahomes has become a joke. NFL owners don’t like when their team is a joke.

One can argue that Pace actually built a very strong and talented roster, but this is a quarterback’s league and is there’s any reason to think Pace can get that position right?

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Lists, Lists and More Stupid Lists: An ATM Special Report

| May 29th, 2019

Last week we reached the part of the offseason where various media members began releasing lists ranking random NFL players, executives and pretty much anything else they can think of with the hope that it will create conversation amongst the fan bases.

While the number of lists released are too numerous to count, there were three that I found particularly interesting.


Bears Top 100

I’m not sure anybody alive is actually qualified to rank the 100 best players in the history of the Chicago Bears, but Dan Pompei and Don Pierson are as close as it gets.

I have nothing to add to players who retired before I was born and very little to say about the 1980s greats of whom I saw very little. But it still seems odd to me that Brian Urlacher wasn’t higher on the list.

Urlacher was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, whereas Richard Dent was really more of an afterthought and Jimbo Covert isn’t in at all — and doesn’t seem likely to get in. Yet both Dent and Covert ranked higher than Urlacher.

I’m cool with Devin Hester being second among the 2000s Bears, but Charles Tillman should’ve been ahead of Lance Briggs. Briggs was more recognized because he was Urlacher’s battery mate, but Tillman was the better player.

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Debating the ‘Value’ Of David Montgomery

| May 7th, 2019

Shortly after the 2019 NFL Draft, the Ryan Pace detractors were at it again, claiming the Bears GM “wasted” a pick by trading up to grab Iowa State running back David Montgomery.

The attacks, made by noted Pace-hater Bill Barnwell (among others), are more about Pace’s selection philosophy than his actual selections. Writers often like to live in a dream world where draft picks are more valuable than actually having quality players. Oh, and none of those picks should be used on a running back!

GMs live in the real world. They realize they have to acquire good players and can’t sit back and wait for life to happen to them. That is part of the reason why Phil Emery is a scout for the Falcons, not GM of the Bears. Of course, we shouldn’t expect Barnwell to understand that.

The case of Montgomery was especially delicious to critics because a running back many of them liked more — Alabama’s Damien Harris — went with Chicago’s original pick, 87 overall, to the New England Patriots. Why move up 14 spots to draft a worse player? Well, it’s pretty simple really: they liked Montgomery more. A lot more.

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