No excuses? Even in a pandemic, Bears GM Ryan Pace still on the hot seat

The restrictions of the COVID-19 quarantine have put a crimp on the Bears’ offensive overhaul, but — unfair or not — Pace and coach Matt Nagy likely won’t get a pass for the altered 2020 season.

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General manager Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are introduced at Halas Hall three years ago.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace (left) and head coach Matt Nagy (right) face a critical season in difficult circumstances after the Bears fell from 12-4 in 2018 to 8-8 in 2019.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bears general manager Ryan Pace was a pro personnel scout for the Saints when they fired coach Jim Haslett after a 3-13 season marred by the impact of Hurricane Katrina. So he knows there’s a limit to extenuating circumstances in the NFL, if there are any at all.

But already we can see that making fair judgments on anyone — players, coaches and GMs included — will be difficult in a season altered by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. There has been virtually no face-to-face contact between team personnel and players in the offseason and no on-field workouts and practices. Training camp already has been affected. There will be no preseason games. Key players are opting out — including Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman. There are likely to be more injuries and absences if regular-season games eventually are played. It’ll still be football, but compared to a normal season, it might be a mess.

Those circumstances make it particularly tough on Pace and coach Matt Nagy, who are counting on an offensive overhaul to rejuvenate the Bears’ once-promising prospects. But Nick Foles has had zero time on the field to learn the nuances of Nagy’s offense and get acclimated with new receivers and teammates. Rookie tight end Cole Kmet — a big part of the rebuild in a key position in Nagy’s offense — spent most of a critical offseason learning the Bears’ offense on Zoom.

New offensive line coach Juan Castillo — who claims his success is due to getting his players to outwork everybody else — has yet to even be on the field with his players to install the basics. The same goes for new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, new quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and new tight ends coach Clancy Barone. And Mitch Trubisky — a self-described reps guy now fighting for his job — can’t get reps.

It’s a tough year to be on the hot seat, but the NFL hot seat waits for no man. If both quarterbacks falter under difficult circumstances, the defense — already impacted by Goldman’s absence — has a key injury or two and the Bears go into 2021 with a high draft pick and a need for a new franchise quarterback, is Pace going to get the opportunity to draft him? In that scenario, his record of quarterback evaluation would emphatically say no.

That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves, no doubt — and it’s an extreme example. But the issue of Pace’s future (and Nagy’s, for that matter) was stoked again this week when Pace traded tight end Adam Shaheen to the Dolphins — turning a second-round pick into a seventh-round pick. (It could become a sixth-round pick, but only if the Dolphins get more out of Shaheen than the Bears did — which would be yet another indictment.)

Pace actually has done a good job of acknowledging mistakes and underachievers and moving on — Mike Glennon, Kevin White, Cody Parkey, Trey Burton, Leonard Floyd, Shaheen and Trubisky. But that list is too long and includes too many first-round picks and high-priced free agents. He has had his share of hits — Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, Khalil Mack, Goldman, Danny Trevathan and others. But the quarterback misevaluations tilt his ledger to the negative. The heat is on, or should be.

Even during a pandemic season? Probably. That’s life in the NFL. When Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was the coach of the Colts, he was fired after a 4-12 season without injured quarterback Andrew Luck. Then again, Pagano got the opportunity to coach the Colts when Jim Caldwell was fired after the Colts went 2-14 without an injured Peyton Manning. It’s a tough business. And this is a tough year to be on the hot seat. But there are no mulligans in the NFL.

NOTE: The Bears activated running back Artavis Pierce from the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday. He was put on the list last week because he either tested positive or had been near someone who did. Fellow running back Napoleon Maxwell was waived.

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