Chagrined but resolute after a 3-13 season, Bears general manager Ryan Pace expressed extreme disappointment in his second season but is confident that advantageous positions in the draft and free agency give the Bears a chance to improve in 2017.
“My message to Bears fans is simple: We will improve. I hear you,” Pace said in his opening remarks at a post-season press conference at Halas Hall. “But I also understand this is just talk and we’ve got to show actions. We’ve got to show results. I fully get that.”
Pace emphasized four key issues after the Bears dropped from 5-11 in John Fox’s first season to 3-13 in his second: (1) An aggressive approach to solving the injury problems that saw 19 players go on injured reserve; (2) getting the right quarterback is a “critical, critical decision”; (3) growth from within after several rookies and second-year players played key roles in 2016; and (4) taking advantage of high draft picks — including the No. 3 overall pick — and in free agency, where the Bears are in the top-five in the NFL in salary cap space.
“We’re going to be aggressive and calculated this offseason — we’re in a position to do so,” Pace said. “We’ll have a clear understanding of our roster and where our needs are and where we want to add to each position. I’m honestly excited.”
Here’s a capsule look at the highlights of the Bears post-season press conference:
On the quarterback situation for 2017:
“I think everything’s on the table right now. It’s free agency, it’s trade, it’s draft, it’s current players on our team. In my mind there is no more important position than the quarterback. It’s a position we’re going to evaluate — those meetings next week will be huge for that. But trust me, I understand the magnitude of that decision. That’s a critical, critical decision for me and this whole building.”
On Jay Cutler’s status for 2017:
I met with probably 30 players on Monday and one of them was Jay. There’s a lot of real candid conversations that take place and a lot of transparency and honesty so some of those things I’d like to keep between us. But I think you know once we make a decision as an organization whatever it is, you know he’ll be the first to know and his agent, Bus Cook will be the first to know and I made him that promise.
“But again those decisions haven’t been completely finalized yet but when they are you know he’ll know immediately.”
On fixing the injury issue:
“It was a significant thing for us. I think the wrong thing to do is for me to put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Oh, man, it was bad luck. Maybe better luck next year.’
“We’re not going to do that. We’re going to research and analyze. We have meetings set up. We’re going to look at other teams, other sports, everything — from the training room to the strength-and-conditioning room, to what we do on th efield, the practice schedules — everything’s going to be analyzed.
“Whenever you lead the league in something, or you’re close to leading the league, I mean jeez, you better pay close attention. And there’s a lot of valuable assets that were on IR. I don’t want to make excuses for that, but I also want to understand the importance of getting that right.
On Alshon Jeffery:
“He’s an extremely talented player that has high expectations for himself. I don’t feel like this season he really got into a rhythm that he would have liked to have gotten into. I think that was because of a lot of different quarterback play. And also he missed four games. It’s hard for him to get in a rhythm and showcase what he can do. I think Alshon expects more. I think he’s a good player. And that’s a big decision for us.”
On former first-round pick Kyle Fuller, who missed the entire season after arthroscopic surgery:
“I think he’s frutstrated and we are too. I think we opened up that three-week window [after being on injured reserve] with the full expectation that by the end of that he would be ready to go. And he’s trying to get stronger and he is trying to do all of the little things right.
“I’m not giving up on Kyle Fuller. He was a high draft pick by this organization and it’s on us to do everything we can to get him playing back at a top level. You guys know it’s a position of need for us and getting him back where he can play would be huge for this organization. So, he’s got to have an important, big offseason. He knows that.”
On the NFL-record-low-tying 11 takeaways:
“I looked at that and obviously that’s a major issue. I looked back where [defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio’s been. In San Francisco and wherever he’s been, he’s ranked very high in takeaways. That’s his track record. Top five for a number of years in San Francisco.
“I honestly think we need to add more playmakers to our secondary. We need to add more ball skills to our secondary. That’s on me and we’ll do that.”
On 2017 being a critical year for himself and John Fox:
“My promise to Bears fans, and I really mean this: there’s not a moment that goes by that we’re both not consumed with getting this right. This is unacceptable. It’s painful to deal with. I get it. We’re going to get better. There’s a lot of young players that are going to improve. There’s a lot of players coming back that are going to help us. There’s a lot of things we can do this offseason to make us better.
“I knew this wasn’t an overnight fix. And I think you’ve got to be careful with that sometimes. Sometimes there’s a little bit of a panic, and you start reaching for bad-character guys or big contracts on wrong players. I think we’ve got to be calculated and measured while we’re going through this. And we will be. Patience is hard, and I get that, but we have to prove it on the field.”