ORLANDO, Fla. — Four years ago at the NFL’s annual meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, the Bears made a roster move under the cover of night.
An off-location dinner meeting between former Bears general manager Phil Emery, then-chief negotiator Cliff Stein and NFL agent Ken Harris resulted in a four-year contract for defensive end Jared Allen.
It was a deft move made amid the hustle and bustle of the league’s meetings — one that was purposely hidden from the media that signaled the Bears were all-in for a playoff run that every player seemed to be talking about.
This week, the Bears’ brass returned to the Ritz-Carlton for the first time since those meetings. It’s a completely different team under general manager Ryan Pace and new coach Matt Nagy.
The 2014 season was Allen’s only full one with the Bears, and it also was the last for Emery and former coach Marc Trestman.
So much has happened since then, from the hiring of Pace to the hiring and firing of John Fox to the hiring of Nagy, not to mention a complete overhaul of the roster in three years.
At quarterback, Mike Glennon replaced Jay Cutler, then quickly was usurped by Mitch Trubisky. Only five players remain from Emery’s era.
In many cases, change has been good — overdue, as well — but those at the top of the Bears’ food chain now have the same hopes and expectations from four years ago.
Chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips believe in Pace’s rebuilding efforts and Nagy’s future, but they’re starving for wins. Trubisky is expected to have his struggles in his first year in Nagy’s offense, but this offseason is viewed as the turning point in the Pace era.
“This is a big year for us,” Phillips said in a recent interview. “We’re very confident, but you know what, we want to get to the point where we’re going into [the NFL meetings] feeling like we’ve had success, and we’re just going to build off of that.
“Frankly, I’m tired of saying, ‘We’re re-energized. Here we go. It’s a great start.’ I do feel that in a good way now, but it’s time to start winning. That’s how I feel.”
Those re-energized feelings are based on Pace’s hiring of Nagy and Trubisky’s possibilities. They’ve got a young quarterback — the second overall pick in ’17 — to build around.
The best indications of the change in expectations are Pace’s moves in free agency. The Bears’ treading-water moves from last offseason — yes, that’s what Glennon, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and others were — pale in comparison to this year’s splash signings of Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, the best receiver and tight end, respectively, available in free agency.
“Well, we’re encouraged; we’re hopeful,” McCaskey said recently. “But Ted hit the nail on the head. We have to get results. Bears fans have been remarkably patient, and we need to reward that patience.”
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