NFL coaches and general managers are conditioned to feel pressure in good times and bad.
A year ago before the draft, Bears GM Ryan Pace figured to have some cushion after a 12-4 season that earned him the Executive of the Year Award.
Of course not.
“The pressure feels the same to me,” Pace said. “I feel like [with] fewer picks and with later picks, the onus is on us as scouts to hit on these picks and to keep this momentum that we’ve got.”
Through his hits and misses in free agency and the draft, Pace has been a pretty cool customer no matter the situation, unaffected by criticism for past mistakes and the demand that he had better get this thing fixed or else.
But after cutting tight end Trey Burton on Friday, the heat on Pace is more real than ever. You like a guy who can admit a mistake and cut his losses. But the tacit mea culpas are quickly adding up for Pace — Mike Glennon, Kevin White, Cody Parkey, Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky, Adam Shaheen and now Burton.
All were or are varying degrees of disappointment/failure. Floyd was productive in a loaded defense, but not the pass rusher the Bears envisioned when they drafted him ninth overall. Trubisky still has a shot to succeed, but the Bears’ $21 million investment in Nick Foles is an acknowledgement that Trubisky hasn’t lived up to his draft status after they traded four picks to get him at No. 2 overall in 2017.
The only sure thing heading into this week’s NFL Draft is that Pace will not let any of those compounding failures affect his thinking. Would he dare take Dayton tight end Adam Trautman — a small-program, “Gronk-like” late bloomer who has been rising up draft boards — after the Shaheen experience? You bet he would.
Be that as it may, the 2018 draft class will go a longer way toward making or breaking Pace in Chicago than this one will. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith, guard James Daniels and wide receiver Anthony Miller — the eighth, 39th and 51st players taken — are due for major leaps that could shape the 2020 Bears more than anything they get this weekend. If it indeed takes three seasons to accurately judge a draft, the Roquan class of 2018 is the one to watch.
After signing Foles, 31, and Jimmy Graham, 33, in free agency, it’s clear Pace is in win-now mode. This year’s draft can provide immediate help with the 43rd and 50th overall picks in the second round — more so than last year, when the Bears didn’t have a first- or second-round pick and only two picks in the top 200.
It will be interesting to see how Pace plays it. Can he afford to take a player in the second round who might not help immediately — a quarterback or an offensive tackle? Or, in win-now mode, is he compelled to upgrade a position of need — right guard, safety, cornerback, tight end or wide receiver?
He has some options. At each of his most prominent need positions, Pace can live with what he already has: Germain Ifedi and Rashaad Coward at right guard; Deon Bush and Jordan Lucas at safety; Kevin Toliver and Artie Burns/Tre Roberson at cornerback; Graham at tight end; Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Javon Wims/Riley Ridley at wide receiver.
Chances are, Pace will fill two of those needs in the second round. But based on what we’ve seen the last five years, he won’t be afraid to play for a future that may or may not be his.