The Bears are 3-1 at their bye week, but it’s no surprise that reclusive general manager Ryan Pace hasn’t come out of his bunker at Halas Hall to take a well-deserved bow. In football, they take their cues from Bill Belichick, not Theo Epstein.
Be that as it may, Pace’s star has risen more than anyone else’s in the Bears organization in the last five weeks. Everybody knew linebacker Khalil Mack was a great player coming in. First-year NFL coach Matt Nagy had no résumé to criticize when he arrived. Even after a mediocre-at-best rookie season, quarterback Mitch Trubisky was still a long way from being considered a bust heading into this season.
But Pace? He was ranked as the worst established general manager in the NFL by NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal in April, before the draft. Of the 26 GMs who had been on the job before January 2017, Pace was ranked 26th. The Sporting News’ Vinny Iyer ranked him 29th out of 32 in a GM ranking in June.
For the record, there’s little to quarrel with in those rankings. Pace’s biggest hits in free agency (Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Prince Amukamara) were trumped by bigger misses (Mike Glennon, Pernell McPhee, Markus Wheaton, Eddie Royal, Antrel Rolle). Pace had been better in the draft (Eddie Goldman, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Adrian Amos), but even the promise he showed there was diminished by an unimpressive record of top-10 first-round picks: wide receiver Kevin White at No. 7 in 2015, linebacker Leonard Floyd at No. 9 in 2016 and Trubisky at No. 2 in 2017.
Just four games into this season, Pace’s fortunes have changed considerably. The acquisition of Mack in a stunning trade with the Raiders has been a masterstroke — not just because Mack has been even better than advertised so far, but because he has had a chain-reaction impact that has elevated many of Pace’s other acquisitions: Hicks, Trevathan, Goldman, Amukamara, Jackson and others.
Trevathan already has won an NFC Defensive Player of the Week award. Before Mack arrived, Roy Robertson-Harris was an undrafted free agent and Bilal Nichols was a fifth-round draft pick nobody knew or cared about. Now — in the early going, at least — they’re the kind of “finds” that make GMs look good.
But if early indications hold up, Pace was having a good year even before the Mack deal. He fired John Fox and hired Nagy. To bolster the offense, he signed wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton in free agency — already a significant improvement over Glennon, Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Dion Sims a year ago.
Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch looked like a dud when he was injured most of the offseason, but he already has made an impact. Even kicker Cody Parkey is working out, making 9 of 10 field-goal attempts. We haven’t heard Robbie Gould’s name in more than a week.
It’s too early to judge the 2018 draft class, but indications are that this class will compare favorably to Pace’s first draft class, which included White, Goldman, center Hroniss Grasu, running back Jeremy Langford and Amos. Linebacker Roquan Smith is a starter and looks due to break out after missing most of training camp and all of the preseason. Guard James Daniels, a second-round pick (39th overall), could start next week against the Dolphins. Nichols already has three tackles-for-loss in limited snaps. And fourth-round pick Joel Iyiegbuniwe is a core special-teams player.
There’s still a long way to go. Things change in a hurry. And Trubisky can still be Pace’s undoing. But after a three-year teardown/rebuild that made him look like a worse GM than he is, Pace is closer to getting his due. Whenever the next GM rankings come out, he’ll be a lot higher than No. 26.