The Midseason Progress Report: QB, HC, GM

| November 15th, 2021


Pre-Bye Grade: B-

A few sentences: A quarterback’s rookie season is difficult to evaluate but the Justin Fields trajectory is that of a player who is going to be around a long time. He flashed big plays, even when struggling, and has translated those flashes into two dynamic performances against two solid opponents. B- is a fantastic grade for a rookie at this stage.

% Chance of Returning: 100

Thoughts on Return: Fields is the most dynamic player at quarterback in Bears history. All focus now shifts to building a roster to support him. (That means protection. Fields will make the skill guys better.)

Head Coach

Pre-Bye Grade: D-

A few sentences:  The Bears lose to every good team they play. They never have a sideline advantage. They commit too many penalties. They make too many mistakes. Details are constantly ignored. The only thing keeping this grade from the basement is the development of Fields, for which Matt Nagy must be given at least some credit.

% Chance of Returning: 7.8

Thoughts on Return: The only way Nagy can plausibly return as head coach is if Fields dominates the second half and the Bears find themselves either (a) in the postseason or (b) seriously contending for a postseason spot, the final week of the season, with a winning record. Neither of those things is going to happen.

Based on some conversations with folks close to ownership, the team is ready to find the next coach.

General Manager

Pre-Bye Grade: A+

A few sentences: Many are going to see that grade and think, “What the hell drugs is he on?” But Ryan Pace drafted – in this year’s draft – what looks like a franchise quarterback. That’s all that matters in this league. I don’t care what the old quarterbacks and tight ends cost. I don’t care what he’s doing with the cap. If he got the QB correct, and it looks like he did, everything will become easier for Bears in the years to come.

(This is not Pace’s grade for his tenure. Just his grade for this season, pre-bye.)

% Chance of Returning: 56.5

Thoughts on Return: It is close. But it’s looking slightly more likely that Pace will be allowed to choose another coach. He had a good draft in 2020 and a potentially transformative draft in 2021, including the selection of a franchise quarterback. Ownership could see these two years as a young GM making progress, lay the failures of the last few years at the feet of Matt and Mitch, and keep stability in their front office.

Bears ownership chose to keep Pace after 2020. He drafted Fields in 2021. Why would they fire him now?

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ATM: Fields, Borom Making Evaluation of GM Ryan Pace a Tricky Endeavor

| November 10th, 2021

The biggest difference for the Chicago Bears offense the last two weeks, aside from their quarterback play, has been right tackle Larry Borom, and the fifth-round selection seems destined to be a ten-year contributor in the NFL.

In the first two starts of his NFL career, Borom has been matched against two of the best pass rushers in the league – Bosa and Watt. He’s had some expectedly rough snaps but his overall play is adding yet another intriguing rookie to what could be a transformational class. Borom wasn’t expected to start this quickly but now has the makings of another fifth-round steal for Ryan Pace. He is also the fourth rookie to give the Bears meaningful contributions this season.

  • Justin Fields has been great the last two weeks.
  • Sixth-rounder Khalil Herbert has made some wonder if David Montgomery, one of the ten best backs in the league, is expendable.
  • Seventh-rounder Khyiris Tonga has made it so Eddie Goldman could be moved in the offseason.

(And all this with second rounder Teven Jenkins not playing a snap. If the Bears emerge from the 2021 draft with two starting tackles and a franchise quarterback, it becomes the stuff of legend.)

There are two unquestionable truths when it comes to Pace: he has left the team seriously lacking in talent at key positions and he has a rare eye for talent.

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Nagy and Pace Have Only Themselves to Blame

| November 3rd, 2021

After some Monday morning conversations with several people – both inside Halas Hall and around the league – I came away, for the first time in 2021, believing there was little chance of either Matt Nagy or Ryan Pace returning to the Chicago Bears in 2022. The program, the entire program, seems to have reached its conclusion. And it begs a simple question: why are we here?

When Nagy and Pace selected Justin Fields, they should have had the built-in cushion of this season. After receiving the vote of confidence from George and Ted at the end of the 2020 campaign, and then being allowed to choose the quarterback of the future, they could have sold the whole of Bears world on Fields’ long-term development being more important than any short-term results. Like it or not, they could have wiped the last several seasons off the ledger and started fresh.

Instead, they mangled the whole thing.

They didn’t have a contending roster on their hands but they naively, confusedly, acted like they did. They refused to give the rookie quarterback even so much as the opportunity to win the starting job this summer for that very reason. Then, when forced into action due to injury, they’ve seen their young quarterback struggle to find rhythm with any of the starting skills guys because of a complete lack of reps with them all summer long.

And because they pretended like they had a contending roster, they needed to contend! And there was simply no way that was going to happen. Nagy and Pace installed pressure on themselves to achieve the unachievable in 2021. Listen, the reason the franchise is not a contender this year is entirely their fault, but that almost doesn’t matter. They were given a second life. First, from ownership. Then, with Fields. They could have totally changed the conversation to a future with Justin Fields and built an entirely new program around him.

But instead, they tried to shoehorn Fields into the old program; a failed program. George McCaskey was looking for every possible reason to keep these men in their jobs, to not go through another exhausting search, but they have almost left him with no choice.

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Dannehy: Pace and Nagy Must Be A Package Deal

| October 20th, 2021

When it comes to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, the Chicago Bears have to keep both or neither.

It was this calendar year that Ted Phillips and George McCaskey attempted to sell the fan base on the collaboration that would occur between the team’s head coach and general manager. The men were now on equal footing and, more likely, Pace was no longer the top football mind in the organization. Reports about the Bears investigating Nagy’s good friend Mike Borgonzi as a possible replacement for Pace didn’t come from thin air. Pair that with Louis Riddick’s insistence that it is no longer Pace’s show and it’s logical to conclude that Nagy signed off on keeping Pace.

But now another season has began and the Bears offense is still bad.

Pace won over fans because he’s seen as the roster builder and that approach led to the Bears landing Justin Fields. The reality is that it was Nagy who was doing the legwork on Fields and had the final say in picking Fields over Mac Jones. But nobody cares about reality during the course of a season. The Bears offense is the worst in the league and both the GM and head coach have blame to share.

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Bears Must Shift Emphasis from Winning Games in 2021 to Preparing Justin Fields for 2022.

| October 19th, 2021

Herm Edwards said it best, and for the most part he was right. When you line up to play a football game, the primary objective should be to score more points than the other team. That has certainly been the approach of Matt Nagy, at least offensively, through the early goings of the Justin Fields era at quarterback. The Bears have identified their best approach to winning as play good defense, run the ball consistently, and ask the quarterback to make a play or two at pivotal moments.

But is this the right approach for the Chicago Bears moving forward, especially over the difficult four-game stretch to come? The answer is unequivocally no. And it all comes down to self-evaluation.

Forget the complexity of QBR and DVOA and all the other analytics flooding your Twitter feed. Let’s objectively look at each position group on offense for the Chicago Bears and assign them either a + (plus) or a (minus). Let’s leave quarterback out. Plus means they’re good. Minus means they’re not. Simple.

[Side note: these evaluations are based on current usage and production. I think Damiere Byrd is a good NFL wide receiver but he’s not being used at all so what can you do?]

  • Running backs: +
    • David Montgomery is one of the better backs in the league, Damien Williams is a terrific change of pace option and Khalil Herbert looks every bit an every-down back. (And don’t forget Tarik Cohen is still in the wilderness.) This has turned into as good an RB room as there is in the league.
  • Offensive line: –
    • They are a good run-blocking unit but they’re incapable of protecting the quarterback in obvious passing situations. In this modern NFL, that’s a must.
  • Tight ends: –
    • Cole Kmet finally flashed in the passing game Sunday. But they have Jimmy Graham making $7M to block once every other week. When you factor in the supposed importance of this position in this offense, it’s something of a disaster.
  • Wide Receivers: –
    • Darnell Mooney is going to be a player for years to come. Allen Robinson is ordinary. The rest of the group can be found on practice squads around the league at this production level.

So if you’re Nagy and Bill Lazor, of course you’re going to be run-first, run-always, run-forever. The only two real positives on your offensive roster, around the rookie QB, are the OL’s ability to run block and the backs behind them. But this approach only makes logical sense if the primary objective is to squeeze out as many wins from the 2021 season as possible. And that should no longer be the primary goal. It should never have been the primary goal.

The goal has to be Fields.

They need to get more out of him every week.

They need to ask more of him every week.

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Ryan Pace’s Reversal of Fortune.

| May 3rd, 2021

It started with a dinner.

Dan Wiederer told the tale.

Ryan Pace had a “covert” dinner with Mitch Trubisky at a steakhouse in Chapel Hill. The reservation, made by Mitch, was under the name Jim McMahon. History! Trubisky drove a Datsun or Pinto or something. Humility! The Bears decided this was their quarterback of the future because he seemed to check all the intangible boxes found on a form Pace stole from a locked drawer in Sean Payton’s desk.

It didn’t work. And the scrutiny started quickly. What didn’t Pace like about Patrick Mahomes? Why didn’t he meet with Deshaun Watson? What about Trubisky was SO impressive – it certainly wasn’t his collegiate production – that it led the Bears GM to throw horse blinders on and ignore everybody else?

The Pace tenure had become defined by those months leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft and the production of the men he decided not to take. Sure, he whiffed on Kevin White, reached (ridiculously) for Adam Shaheen and tossed some money away on Robert Quinn. But every GM misses on picks and spends money ineffectively in free agency. Trubisky was the story. And that mistake, compounded by Pace’s inability to correct it (an improbable task, to be fair) was the entire narrative. Every positive move, including rebuilding the worst defense in Chicago Bears history, was shuffled into the shadows.


Come the end of the 2020 season, the expectations were that Pace would be GM no longer. The Bears were coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons, with a flop quarterback and an aging defense. Change felt inevitable, whether that be the coach, the GM or long-time team president Ted Phillips. GMs don’t get second chances to find franchise quarterbacks. Owners, especially in this modern, last-place-to-first-place-yearly NFL, are not patient individuals. It’s been well-discussed how much George McCaskey likes Pace but an owner’s love plus $5.99 will get you a double cheese at the Billy Goat.

They stood pat. They delivered an awkward press conference, preached collaboration, and maintained an organizational status quo. McCaskey and Phillips trusted their instincts, leaning on their belief that Pace – still only 44 years old – was not a completed picture. In any line of work, one usually improves with time and experience and the Bears believed the same would be true for Pace. It was not a decision met favorably by those who cover and cheer for the Chicago Bears. Many claimed it was the Bears acting like 8-8 was perfectly acceptable. But anyone listening to that presser heard a distinct refrain: it was about the quarterback. Pace was admitting his Trubisky failure and vowing to make amends THIS offseason.

As the draft closed in, that vow seemed like horseshit.

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ATM: Pace Can Be Trusted When It Comes to Draft

| April 20th, 2021

Since the Bears hired Ryan Pace prior to the 2015 offseason, few teams have made fewer selections in the NFL Draft. But the Bears GM ranks among the best in the league at getting value with the pick he’s made. While misses like Mitch Trubisky, Adam Shaheen and Kevin White receive the most intention – rightfully, when it comes to the quarterback – Pace has been among the best in the league at making picks when it comes to the weighted career approximate value (CarAv). This is a metric used by Pro-Football-Reference.

Since Pace took over the team has made 39 draft picks. The only teams with fewer are Atlanta and New Orleans, while Carolina is tied. With those picks, Pace has managed a total approximate value of 407, just around the middle of the pack since 2015. The average CarAV amongst Pace’s picks is 10.4, the fourth-best average in the league.

Pace is often criticized for not valuing draft picks, but that oft-repeated notion seems unfounded.

  • Of the teams in the top 10 for average CarAV, only one, Baltimore, has used more than 45 draft picks since 2015.
  • Recent Super Bowl winners, Kansas City (42) and Tampa Bay (43), are all in the same ball park.
  • Other annual contenders like New Orleans (37), Buffalo (42) and Tennessee (44) also rank in the top 10.
  • Two other teams who are in the top 10 — Atlanta (38) and Carolina (39) — have made a Super Bowl in that span.
  • The only team in the top 10 without multiple playoff appearances since 2015 is the LA Chargers.

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Are the Bears Trying to Make a Splash at QB? Of Course.

| April 16th, 2021

It was the way Brad Biggs worded his Tweet that caught me somewhat off-guard.

It seems unbelievable because it is, in fact, not believable. The Bears just spent more than a month negotiating with the Seattle Seahawks for Russell Wilson, only to have that deal be shanked in the prison yard by Pete Carroll. (And some high-profile NFL reporters still don’t believe the deal is dead.)

The Bears have been one of a handful of teams still in contact with the Houston Texans regarding Deshaun Watson – a player many in the league believe will not face serious legal issues beyond the current civil complaints. In the short-term, dealing for Watson would be a bit of a PR nightmare. (“Yes, he rubbed his dick on the masseuse but…” is a tough sell in any climate, especially our current one.) In the long-term? I don’t hear Chiefs fans complaining about having Tyreek Hill on their roster and what he did is far worse than what Watson is accused of doing.

And now the team is actively trying to make a huge leap in the draft, to as high as number four, to “solve” their issues at the most important position in team sports.

This is not new for the Chicago Bears. Despite what is constantly uttered about the team’s ownership, they have been aggressively trying to get this position right for decades. An early first for McNown. Didn’t work. So…a mid-first for Rex. Didn’t work. So…multiple firsts for Jay. Didn’t work. So…trading up one spot in the early first for Mitch. Didn’t work. So…we’re here. They have committed resource after resource after resource in an effort to avoid being what they remain: one of many teams trying to escape mediocrity without the help of a star quarterback.

And that’s what the team is doing now. Still trying to pursue Wilson. Still calling about Watson. Still packaging what they can to move up in the draft. Ryan Pace is doing EVERYTHING he can to solve this organization’s biggest problem. Whether he can do enough is something we won’t know for a while.

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If They Make 2021 About Andy Dalton, the Chicago Bears – Collectively – Have Lost Their Minds

| April 1st, 2021

Andy Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

Ryan Pace knows Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

Matt Nagy knows Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

George McCaskey and Ted Phillips know Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

And that is why none of these men can possibly believe Dalton is a pathway out of the mediocrity of the last two seasons. None of these men can possibly think Dalton – even replacing the ineptitude of “the former guy” – is the missing piece in a Super Bowl puzzle. And in the cases of Pace, Nagy and perhaps even Phillips, they can’t possibly imagine Dalton is worth risking their tenures within the organization.

To believe any of that nonsense would show that everyone in a position of authority at Halas Hall has lost their collective minds. And if that’s case, what hope do any of us have?

So we must believe Pace, Nagy, Phillips and McCaskey have not lost their minds. We must believe they understand the Bears must still solve the most important position in team sports. We must believe they know there are only two ways to inspire this fanbase for the coming season: Russell Wilson or a first-round (or very early second-round) quarterback.

Bears fans have grown impatient, and with every right. But until we know if either Wilson or a top prospect are achieved, there is no reason to be decisive about this Bears off-season. That time, however, is rapidly approaching.

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