When the season wrapped on Jan. 1 with another pitiful quarterback outing for the Chicago Bears – the sixth and final start for Matt Barkley in an embarrassing 38-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings – Chicago general manager Ryan Pace had seen more than enough.
Frustration had devolved into a feeling of hardened dissatisfaction over the state of his quarterbacks room, and Pace began advancing plans to completely revamp the position this offseason. According to league sources familiar with Pace’s mindset, the general manager relayed a resolute determination to some personnel staffers: From this offseason forward, the Bears would never go another year without tangible hope at quarterback.
This is how Mitchell Trubisky ended up in Chicago.
For those scratching their heads over $16 million in guaranteed money given to free agent Mike Glennon – and multiple draft picks traded for Trubisky (swapping first-round picks, two thirds and a fourth) – Pace’s supporters across the NFL point to his last two seasons in Chicago. Like many Bears fans in his city, he grew weary of not having a long-term foundational quarterback he believed in. And that was going to change this offseason, regardless of potential growing pains for the franchise and veteran coaching staff.
“I think [Pace] just got tired of looking at his quarterback situation and not having optimism in where it was going,” one source said. “When he looks at franchises that are consistently successful, consistently in the playoff picture, consistently winning Super Bowls, they all have the same thing in common: They have their quarterback. … I don’t think he ever saw that player in the [quarterbacks room] over the last two years, and I think he just had enough of that.”
So Pace resolved his problem his way – with a guy he and his personnel staff believe in. Exactly how onboard head coach John Fox was in the decision is a matter of debate, although Pace painted the two as being “arm-in-arm” on the decision. That may be, but it’s also fair to suggest that this draft is most definitely an example of Pace going forth with a longer-term approach with the roster. And not just with the Trubisky pick either.
Not only did the Bears take a hopeful franchise quarterback with just 13 college starts – who may need years of development before paying dividends – but they also spent three of their five draft picks on players who didn’t compete in the top tier of college football. That trio was tight end Adam Shaheen, offensive lineman Jordan Morgan (from Division II Ashland and Kutztown, respectively) and running back Tarik Cohen, from FCS school North Carolina A&T. Arguably the only player with plug-and-play ability from this draft is safety Eddie Jackson who played four years at Alabama. He transitioned to safety as a junior and is still growing at the position.
Add it all up and the summary shows a general manager and personnel staff that is selecting players who aren’t necessarily geared toward winning immediately. Instead, Chicago walks out of the draft with a number of guys who face a significant growth curve on the NFL level, with a head coach in Fox who is 62 years old and already carrying a 9-23 record in two seasons with the Bears. In some ways, it’s beginning to look similar to the divergent paths of Jeff Fisher and his front office with the Los Angeles Rams last season – although with far less defensive talent on the roster.
For those reasons alone, it’s fair to suggest that the 40-year-old Pace is doing it his way in Year 3, building a roster that is more concerned with longtime viability than immediate results. Whether that’s good for Fox and his staff or Glennon and what amounts to a one-year contract is a matter of debate. What isn’t is that this is likely all going to rise or fall on the Trubisky pick, which may ultimately come to define Pace as a general manager.
After kicking that suggestion around with various NFL sources this week, it’s clear that Pace knows what he’s getting into. And he certainly wasn’t hiding his feelings about his quarterbacks before the draft, either. Indeed, two sources told Yahoo Sports in the run-up to the first round that the Bears were one of the teams believed to be locked in on Trubisky as the top quarterback available. This despite having paid Glennon and Trubisky being mired in a seemingly league-wide debate over the quality of the QB class.
Pace saw his guy, and that ended up making all the difference on draft day. To the point that Pace’s aggressive trade to move up from No. 3 overall to No. 2 was likely a case where the Bears were bidding against themselves. Pace revealed his rationale behind the move. He was receiving calls from teams about moving to the Bears’ pick at No. 3 overall and believed those inquiries were efforts by other teams to draft Trubisky. His assumption was that if a team was calling him at No. 3 and hoping to draft the guy he wanted, they were likely calling the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2 as well. And he didn’t want to give someone else the opportunity to take the quarterback he believed in.
Whether that was going to happen is a matter of debate. Pace’s supporters say the entire argument is irrelevant and framed improperly. While media (such as myself) have looked at it as trading three additional draft picks to move up one spot, Pace’s supporters said it should be looked at as trading four picks (a first, two thirds and a fourth) for a franchise quarterback. The criticism from Pace’s supporters is that the crowd of naysayers are locked in on the “move one spot in the draft” narrative rather than the “move to get your franchise quarterback” storyline.
“If you believe it’s your franchise quarterback, who cares what it costs to get him?” asked one of Pace’s supporters. “And if [Pace] is right about Trubisky, then nobody cares about any of this. That’s the bottom line. Nobody will care what he gave up for a franchise quarterback. … [Two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder] isn’t much to give up if it’s the difference between getting your franchise quarterback or possibly not getting him.”
Whether Trubisky is worthy to be considered a franchise quarterback is another argument. The bottom line is that Pace sees him as that – and thus, has to make moves based on that assumption. That has always been one of the traits about Pace that his allies have celebrated. In fact, when Pace left the New Orleans Saints for the Bears in 2015, a number of sources told Yahoo Sports that one of Pace’s biggest assets was that he firmly asserted himself in his own evaluations. To the point that if he and Saints head coach Sean Payton disagreed on a player, Pace was known to be blunt about his analysis – whether it was the popular viewpoint or not.
If that kind of self-conviction is legitimate, it’s coming in handy for Pace now. The reality is that Trubisky had skewed evaluations across the league. Some teams were comfortable with him as a high-end prospect, while others were unsettled with his lack of experience or some aspect of his skills. Of course, that’s common with any quarterback drafted near the top of the first round – a territory where hair-splitting occurs on an infinite level.
Only three things really matter in this whole thing. First, that Pace and his staff of evaluators believe in Trubisky as the franchise cornerstone. Second, that Pace has the time to develop the quarterback and put the appropriate long-term pieces around him. And finally, whether Trubisky can live up to the confidence that has been placed in him.
Should all of that happen, Pace gets exactly what he has wanted when this mission started back in January: A quarterback room with some hope – and a franchise that will be reinvigorated because of it.
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