As much as Bears general manager Ryan Pace was asked to look back on the 2018 season on Monday, it was apparent that he already was focused on what’s next for his team.
And with that mindset came a message.
“We’re always going to fight complacency and status quo,” Pace said “We’re pushing every single day to improve this team and improve this roster.”
Here’s a look at what’s ahead for Pace as he starts to shape his offseason plan for the Bears following their 12-4 regular season and first-round exit against the Eagles:
Pace will be tested this offseason. He’s projected to have approximately $20 million in salary-cap space, which is considerably less than previous seasons. His first draft pick also isn’t until the third round.
“We’re going to challenge ourselves,” Pace said. “We’re always going to be improving this roster. That’s my job: To ensure our roster is always getting better, whatever avenue that is.”
It helps that after four years of drafting and signing players that Pace’s depth chart is no longer full of “green magnets” — his indicator for major roster needs.
The Bears also are a young team. The average age of their defense is 26.
Pace also is in his current predicament because of his bold acquisition of outside linebacker Khalil Mack. He said that Mack was “100 percent” worth the cost — the draft picks and salary.
Day 3 of the draft has been a good one for Pace, too. He also highlighted what the Saints accomplished in 2012
“We didn’t have a first-round pick; we didn’t have a second-round pick,” Pace said. “But we had a third-round pick, and that was Akiem Hicks. There’s ways for us to nail this offseason even when the resources are a little bit more limited.”
A starting point
The Bears’ list of starters to re-sign is short: nickel back Bryce Callahan, safety Adrian Amos and right tackle Bobby Massie.
Overall, they’re among 14 unrestricted free agents that the Bears have to evaluate. It also includes punter Pat O’Donnell, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch and special-teamer Josh Bellamy.
It’s hard to to see where receiver Kevin White fits with the Bears after he appeared in only nine games this season.
“We have to go through all of them,” Pace said. “Some of them are starters, some of them are key players.”
Callahan was the only player discussed at length. His durability remains a concern after he was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot in December. He’s dealt with injuries in all three of his seasons.
“He’s gotten better and better,” Pace said. “He’s a great example of a college free agent that just has grown here and developed here [and] that we’re proud of. So he played really well. He’s on the right track with his recovery. Obviously, that’s something that we’re going to monitor. We know he’s a free agent. We like Bryce, but that’s got to play out.”
Focusing on Floyd
Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had five sacks in 17 games this season, which includes the Bears’ playoff loss against the Eagles. But Pace still sees a player on the rise.
That’s why Pace plans on picking up Floyd’s fifth-year option for 2020. When that officially happens, the Bears will have seven defensive starters under contract through the 2020 season.
Former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said that Floyd’s season changed once the cast was removed from his broken right hand. Floyd had eight quarterback hits over the Bears’ last six games.
For the first time in his career, Floyd also played in every game this season, answering questions about his durability.
“He played well,” Pace said, “and we’re happy with where he’s at.”
No standing pat
For the first time in a long time, the Bears don’t appear to have many offseason needs. They’re finally in a good place. But Pace isn’t going to stand pat and merely re-sign his free-agent starters.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys, we’ve got a lot of guys under contract, and we’ve got a lot of guys hitting their peaks right now,” Pace said. “But as we approach this offseason, we’re still going to be aggressive. We’re always going to be pushing it.”
It starts with Pace’s promise to have a competition at kicker after Cody Parkey’s disastrous season. But the Bears’ aggressive approach could also result in a new starting safety and/or a new pass rusher.
The Bears also opened the door for signing running back Kareem Hunt, who was released by the Chiefs in November after a video emerged of him kicking a woman on the ground.
No charges were filed in the incident.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of things off the field that he’s got to take care of,” Pace said. “Matt knows Kareem. I don’t know Kareem. Those things are all going to play out.”
A healthy lifestyle
The Bears’ fortunes changed this season because their overall health improved from John Fox’s tenure.
“I think we had the fewest players on IR in the NFL,” Pace said. “In previous years, we were up near the top. Same thing with games missed by starters.”
Pace listed several reasons for their improvement health-wise:
1. Roster changes: “There is a focus in the personnel department on signing durable, available players — and professional players that take care of their bodies.”
2. Matt Nagy’s schedule: “There were a lot of schedule changes that took place. Just how we practice, when we practice.”
3. Hiring trainer Andre Tucker and strength coach Jason Loscalzo: “We overhauled strength and conditioning, the athletic training room.”
But Pace didn’t forget good luck.
It was his final point.
“It was a combination of things,” Pace said. “We need to hone into that and make sure we continue that because that was a huge advantage for us this year. That was a dramatic difference.”