First-and-10: Let’s not flog GM Ryan Pace just yet for signing TE Jimmy Graham

Maybe it’s best to let the dust settle on this one and see what Pace’s plan is. Eric Ebron’s availability notwithstanding, Pace’s options weren’t great to begin with.

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Tight end Jimmy Graham (80) had 38 receptions for 447 yards (11.8 avg.) and three touchdowns with the Packers last season — including this eight-yard touchdown in a 10-3 victory over the Bears in the season opener at Soldier Field.

Tight end Jimmy Graham (80) had 38 receptions for 447 yards (11.8 avg.) and three touchdowns with the Packers last season — including this eight-yard touchdown in a 10-3 victory over the Bears in the season opener at Soldier Field.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Hold your fire.

Signing 2020 Jimmy Graham to a 2015 Jimmy Graham contract — or any contract — seems to be Ryan Pace’s latest fireable offense as the Bears’ general manager — after cutting Robbie Gould, signing Mike Glennon, trading up for Mitch Trubisky and drafting Adam Shaheen.

Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of those prior moves, but signing a declining, 33-year-old former Pro Bowl player to a two-year, $16 million deal hasn’t only raised eyebrows, it has elicited a particularly caustic response from disgruntled Bears fans and other observers, who are wondering — again — ‘‘What was Pace thinking?’’ Flog him!

I don’t quite share their ire. It’s a tight end, a position of desperate need that has led to a desperate measure: the hope that a former All-Pro player just maybe can have a career renaissance, even if it’s a minor uptick.

It is a stretch, no doubt. But even at 33, Graham upgrades the position, if only because of the low bar. And if Graham becomes a complement to Trey Burton and not a replacement, his value might end up being better than it appears now.

Signing Graham is questionable, but it’s hardly a reason to storm Halas Hall in protest, given the Bears’ tight end situation. This essentially is a one-year, $9 million deal with a $6 million cap hit for 2020 and a $3 million buyout for 2021, according to an ESPN report on the contract details.

No doubt the days of overpaying to upgrade a key position — as Pace did with edge rusher Pernell McPhee in 2015 — should be over. When former Colts tight end Eric Ebron signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Steelers, the ‘‘What was Pace thinking?’’ meter went haywire. Pace paid more money for Graham than the Steelers did for the 26-year-old Ebron, who is only a year removed from a 13-touchdown season in 2018.

Then again, Pace is only a year removed from a 12-4, Executive of the Year season in 2018, so you have to be careful with those kinds of qualifiers. Maybe it’s best to let the dust settle on this one and see what Pace’s plan is.

Ebron’s availability notwithstanding, Pace’s options weren’t great to begin with. His make-or-break mission for 2020 is to get the quarterback right, and a productive tight end is only one part of that equation. There will be plenty of time to pile on when we see the results.

2. Nick Foles has been so good in spot duty three times in his career — in 2013, 2017 and 2018 with the Eagles — that the Bears really need to give him a chance to beat out Trubisky in training camp. His upside almost demands a 50/50 split of offseason and training-camp reps. And with the Bears in win-now mode based on the signings of 30-and-over veterans, it no longer would be a surprise if Foles got that chance.

3. Though Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are enticing names, Foles still seems like the best quarterback the Bears could have acquired for their current dynamic: hoping Trubisky takes a huge step toward franchise-quarterback status but having a capable backup familiar with coach Matt Nagy’s system in case that doesn’t happen.

4. The allure of Teddy Bridgewater is a little mystifying. Bridgewater was 5-0 in place of Drew Brees last season with the Saints, but he was hardly prolific operating in one of the most well-established offenses in the league.

The last time Bridgewater was in an offense closer to what the Bears had last season, he was 23rd in the league in passer rating (88.7) with the Vikings in 2015 — with the best running back in the league. You can’t blame Bridgewater if he demanded the starting job. But it’s hard to blame the Bears if they refused to promise him that.

5. The list of players acquired too late by the Bears: 1. Orlando Pace, LT (2009); 2. Jared Allen, DE (2014); 3. Howard Mudd, RG (1969); 4. Antrel Rolle, S (2015); 5. Santonio Holmes, WR (2014); 6. Nemiah Wilson, CB (1975); 7. Dave Krieg, QB (1996); 8. Bryan Cox, LB (1996); 9. Lee Roy Caffey, LB (1970); 10. Adam Archuleta, S (2007).

6. With the issue of player safety at a peak, a 17th regular-season game should have been a line-in-the-sand deal-breaker for the NFL Players Association in negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement. In gaining a greater share of league revenue, the players lost a lot of leverage on the player-safety issue. They are now part of that problem because the sport has reached a point where it is safer not to play the game than to play it.

Risk avoidance in football is at an all-time high. Players don’t participate in bowl games, NFL preseason games and ‘‘meaningless’’ Week 17 games because the injury risk is too great. Training-camp and practice regulations have been altered to avoid injuries (fewer padded practices, no two-a-days, mandated days off). And now they want to play a 17th game? That might end up being a pig in a poke more than a better deal for the players.

7. The odd-number schedule, which could happen as soon as the 2021 season, shows just how desperate both sides were to get this deal. Since the NFL established a universal 12-game schedule in the 1930s, the league has had an even amount of regular-season games — increasing to 14 in 1961 and to 16 in 1978 — so every team gets the same number of home and away games.

A 17-game schedule is inherently unwieldy, with some teams getting nine home games and others getting eight. Will fans cry foul if their team loses a playoff spot or home-field seed because another team had an extra home game?

8. While the roles of Foles and Graham have been hot-button issues, where Robert Quinn fits in coordinator Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 defense can’t be overlooked. Quinn has excelled as a 4-3 defensive end and felt out of place in the Rams’ 3-4. Under Vic Fangio and Pagano, the Bears’ 3-4 has been pretty versatile. But if they plan on Quinn — a more dedicated edge rusher — dropping into coverage as much as Leonard Floyd did, the transition will be worth watching.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski signed a three-year, $21 million contract ($13.5 million guaranteed) with the Raiders in the first week of free agency — a well-deserved raise and promotion.

Kwiatkoski, a fourth-round draft pick, was well-scouted by the Bears and well-developed by the coaching staff in Fangio’s and Pagano’s defense. And he was better than expected every time he was put into a starting role. He was an impact player at times, not just a capable fill-in.

10. Bear-ometer (9-7) — vs. Buccaneers (W); at Falcons (L); vs. Packers (L); at Titans (W); vs. Vikings (W); at Panthers (W); vs. Colts (L); at Jaguars (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (L); at Lions (W); vs. Saints (L); at Rams (W); vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (L).

(Note: The actual schedule is expected to be announced in April.)

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