INDIANAPOLIS — Three years ago, Ryan Pace stood inside the Indiana Convention Center and laid out the traits he wanted in a college quarterback.
“You want to see a guy who has elevated his program,” the Bears’ general manager said.
He then drafted Mitch Trubisky, who went 6-5 against Division I teams in his only year as North Carolina’s starting quarterback.
Last year at the NFL Scouting Combine, Pace said he wanted backup quarterback Chase Daniel “to be a Bear for a long time.”
This year, he’s looking for Daniel’s replacement.
And maybe Trubisky’s, too.
The lesson: it’s lying season. Free agency begins three weeks from Wednesday, and Pace never has seen any benefit in tipping his hand. Believe anything he says publicly at your own peril.
Asked Tuesday whether he was negotiating to re-sign inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, Pace perfectly encapsulated his offseason mentality.
“It’s a difficult time,” he said, “to talk about a lot of things.”
That includes his starting quarterback.
As he stated on New Year’s Eve, Pace said the Bears’ plan is to remain committed to Trubisky as their starter in 2020.
“To be clear, yes it is,” he said. “We believe in Mitch. Mitch knows he needs to be better. We need to be better around him.”
Is it clear, though?
Here’s what Jets GM Joe Douglas said Tuesday about star safety Jamal Adams, who was picked four spots behind Trubisky in 2017: “The plan is for Jamal to be a Jet for life.”
That’s an endorsement.
Pace said that he believes in Trubisky as a player and a person, as well as the “trajectory that he’s on.”
Trajectory? Really? That’s not a promise. That’s a prayer.
To paraphrase the old Chris Rock joke, Pace might prove be only as faithful to Trubisky as his options. If a better quarterback becomes available in free agency or on the trade market, he’d be a fool to say no.
If they don’t? If the Bears lack the cap space or draft capital to move for a legitimate starter —and not just a 1B — well, then, Pace is going to need his former No. 2 overall pick. There’s no need for Pace to trash him publicly.
The Bears, of course, could make a commitment to Trubisky that isn’t bluster. Again Tuesday, they passed.
Asked whether the Bears planned on picking up Trubisky’s fifth-year option for 2021, Pace — for the second time in two months — refused to commit. The Bears don’t need to make a decision until May 30, but that didn’t stop Pace from committing to Leonard Floyd’s option in January 2019.
Trubisky’s option, which would cost about $24 million, is guaranteed only for injury, meaning the Bears can cut him at this time next year with no penalty as long as he passes a physical. Any changes to the fifth-year option process in the proposed collective bargaining agreement wouldn’t affect 2017 draftees.
“We have more pressing needs right now for us,” Pace said. “The trigger date isn’t until May, so we have time on that.”
There’s nothing more pressing than fixing their quarterback problem. Pace knows this. His opinion of Trubisky’s option figures to be influenced by whomever else he can land — or miss out on — next month.
Pace listed the reasons he believes in Trubisky.
“I think he’s accurate, he’s athletic, he can process, his work ethic, how he is as a teammate,” he said.
About an hour later, Nagy singled out Trubisky’s processing of pass coverage as one of the things he needs to improve the most via film study.
Confused? Do they not have their stories straight?
“One thing that he is able to do is get onto the film on his own and really hammer through what he’s looking at,” Nagy said. “Now, for him, I think the processing part is what . . . it has to get to a point where you’re so obsessed, no matter what you’re doing, you’re always watching film.
“We’re at a point now where, in these next several months before they get back in here, April 20 . . . he’s a complete expert at knowing. . . . He needs to know it better than me. And that’s the goal. He’ll tell you that that wasn’t the case last year. That’s not a slight on him — he’s in Year 2 of [Nagy’s offense] — but I want him to make sure that’s where he gets to in the future.”
Pace couldn’t help but reference future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, whom he said “immersed himself” in football before his own fourth season, in 2004 with the Chargers.
“That’s Mitch’s mindset right now,” Pace said. “Just being obsessed with learning NFL defenses, mastering our offense and when you do those things it allows you to play faster and with better instincts.”
One thing he left out: in 2004, the Chargers used the first overall pick of the draft to trade for N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers.
The Chargers had a backup plan.
Pace has a month to figure out his.