If general manager Ryan Pace had it to do over again, would he still take Mitch Trubisky over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft?
That question wasn’t asked at the Bears’ season-ending news conference Tuesday at Halas Hall because there’s no way Pace was going to disparage Trubisky by acknowledging reality and saying no. But after hearing Pace double down and triple down on Trubisky, there’s an even greater fear — that he would’ve said yes.
That seems absurd. But after listening to Pace’s news conference, you really don’t know. The biggest question asked in the wake of the news conference — offered by multiple outlets — was, does Pace believe what he’s saying? Maybe. Maybe not.
The best hope for disillusioned Bears fans is that this is all part of some kind of feint or deception — that Pace is so obsessive about secrecy and not tipping his hand about anything that he is willing to infuriate the fan base to hide his master plan.
As unlikely as that might seem, it wouldn’t be out of character for Pace. He’s an earnest GM straight out of the “Spy vs. Spy” school of over-the-top intelligence-gathering. Without house money to play with after an 8-8 season that ranks among the biggest disappointments in franchise history, maybe Pace has decided to play it even closer to the vest — if that’s even possible.
Several years ago at the NFL Scouting Combine, I asked Packers general manager Ted Thompson about the paradox of the combine news conferences — where GMs don’t want to tip their hand on anything despite knowing their fans crave draft information.
“I’m not going to lie,” Thompson said. “I guess you could go the route and be like ‘Opposite George’ on ‘Seinfeld’ — you know, say whatever’s the opposite. I like to try to be honest with you, but at the same time, I’m not going to give away any information that I think could be used against us. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”
Maybe Pace is going the “Opposite George” route. Maybe he wants the NFL to think he’s all-in on Trubisky when in reality he’s just waiting to pounce in free agency on the best available quarterback, which could be Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton or Derek Carr, among others. Pace drafted Trubisky after signing Mike Glennon. It wouldn’t be a stretch for Pace to change his mind on Trubisky when the quarterback landscape changes in the offseason.
And it would make sense for Pace to at least challenge Trubisky in training camp because the kid-glove, positive-reinforcement, you-can-do-it approach isn’t working.
The notion that Trubisky is on his own developmental arc is a rationalization. The closest comps to Trubisky — top-five draft picks struggling in their third season — are Blake Bortles (26th in the NFL in passer rating in 2016), Marcus Mariota (27th in 2017) and Mark Sanchez (23rd in 2011). This isn’t how it was supposed to go.
When Trubisky was drafted in 2017, he met the Drew Brees standard, by Pace’s account: “All these top quarterbacks, it’s just their ability to quickly process defenses, process coverages, find open targets, not panic under pressure, deliver accurate throws when there’s a noisy pocket and things are collapsing.”
Yet three years later, understanding coverages, finding open receivers and even footwork are areas of improvement, as coach Matt Nagy explained Tuesday. Yes, the Bears traded up to draft a quarterback second overall who still is learning how to read defenses entering Year 4.
In that context, Pace’s support of Trubisky was way over the top. But the offseason will tell the true tale, with an NFL truth to keep in mind: The Bears believe in Trubisky until they don’t. This might not be over yet.