What does Ryan Pace know that the rest of us don’t?
That question has been a theme of Pace’s three-season tenure as the Bears’ general manager. The youngest GM in the NFL has stepped out with one bold move after another — sometimes in the face of conventional wisdom — to re-build and re-shape the Bears’ roster.
He cut guard Matt Slauson after the 2015 season, when many people — including Pro Football Focus — thought Slauson was the Bears’ best offensive lineman. Kyle Long was touting him for the Pro Bowl.
Pace was so intent on ridding himself of tight end Martellus Bennett — a former Pro Bowl player in the prime of his career — that he included a sixth-round draft pick just to get a fourth-round pick from the Patriots. He released kicker Robbie Gould — the most accurate kicker in Bears history and one of the best ever in the NFL — and replaced him with Connor Barth, who couldn’t even make the Buccaneers.
After going 3-13 last season, Pace let former Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery go in free agency, even though it left the Bears with Cam Meredith and unproven Kevin White as their top receivers. And, of course, he cut quarterback Jay Cutler — the Bears’ all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes and rating — because it was time.
It might turn out to be Pace’s most admirable trait. But for now, it is his most defining one: He has the courage of his convictions. Seeming to acknowledge that NFL general managers rarely get more than one chance, he isn’t content to play it safe. When he sees an opportunity he likes, he goes for it.
And nowhere more overtly than at quarterback, which leads us to the other question that marks Pace’s time as the Bears’ GM: Can a guy who was so wrong in evaluating one quarterback be so right in evaluating another?
We’re about to find out. In what could be a watershed moment for Pace and the Bears, rookie Mitch Trubisky will make his NFL regular-season debut against the Vikings on “Monday Night Football” at Soldier Field. He replaces Mike Glennon, who flopped so badly after being anointed the starter that the Bears were compelled to make a change after just four games.
At this point, the only thing Glennon and Trubisky have in common is that Ryan Pace believed in them more than anybody in the world. Talk about stepping out — Pace signed Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract with $18.5 million guaranteed, for a quarterback who was 5-13 as a starter and had not started a game since the middle of the 2014 season. The criticism of the move today is not second-guessing. This was mystifying before the ink was dry.
But Pace was even more resolute in his desire to get Trubisky. He not only played a nifty cloak-and-dagger game in the pre-draft process to hide his interest, but he ended up paying a price to get his man anyway. He easily could have taken his chances of -getting Trubisky at No. 3 overall and settled for Clemson’s equally valued Deshaun Watson if Trubisky wasn’t there. Instead, he gave up three draft picks — a third-round pick (No. 67), a fourth-round pick (No. 111) and a 2018 third-round pick — to make sure he got Trubisky. When he likes you, he loves you.
So after swinging and missing so badly on Glennon, what are the odds that Pace will hit a home run with Trubisky? That’s the beauty of the random nature of football scouting — all you need is one more at-bat to make it all right. And when it’s a quarterback, the bases are always loaded.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.