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Bears GM Ryan Pace’s mistakes catch up to him during Allen Robinson stalemate

The Bears will have a legitimate problem fitting a splashy new contract extension for Robinson into their tight financial situation. But whose fault is that?

The Bears have finished, on average, 24th in scoring during Ryan Pace’s six years as general manager.
The Bears have finished, on average, 24th in scoring during Ryan Pace’s six years as general manager.
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Given how tight-lipped he likes to be about, well, pretty much everything, Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn’t enjoy seeing his fruitless contract negotiations with wide receiver Allen Robinson spill into social media this week.

But Pace has only himself to blame for failing to get a deal done with one of the best players on his team.

The Bears are fretting over whether they can afford Robinson because they’ve repeatedly thrown money at the glaring problems created by Pace’s draft misses. Spotrac and Over The Cap have them at $8.2 million-$9.6 million in salary-cap space for the 2021 season, when the cap is expected to drop to $175 million because of the NFL’s pandemic-related losses.

“I’m confident we’ll work through it,” Pace said in July. “It’s not going to prevent us from doing the things that we want to do.”

Robinson must have read that quote and wondered whether his long-awaited and well-deserved contract extension was one of those things Pace wants to do.

Here’s what Pace has been busy with:

† After whiffing on tight end Adam Shaheen in the second round of the 2017 draft, he put Jimmy Graham on the books for a $6 million cap hit this season and $10 million in 2021. Trey Burton, who had a $32 million contract cut short, still counts for nearly $6.6 million in cap space the next two seasons.

† He splurged on the second-largest total value for any free agent in the recent offseason by signing outside linebacker Robert Quinn at $70 million over five years, and he’s slotted for the Bears’ third-highest cap hit next season. That’s to correct the error of picking Leonard Floyd No. 9 overall in 2016.

† His biggest mistake was taking Mitch Trubisky second overall in 2017. So Pace traded a fourth-round pick to get Nick Foles at $24 million over three years, assigning him the NFL’s fourth-largest cap hit for a backup quarterback at $6.7 million this year and next.

Those decisions, and others such as restructuring cornerback Kyle Fuller’s deal to make him a $20 million cap hit next year, make money tight for 2021.

It was probably worth it for Pace — there’s no doubt his job hinges on this season — to pour everything he could into contending for a championship.

And, sure, if the Bears win the Super Bowl, it’ll be justified regardless of what happens down the road. But if they’re the second- or third-tier team most people think they are, it’s hard to accept those decisions torpedoing the Bears’ future.

That future, by the way, is bleak if Robinson isn’t a part of it. It calls into question yet again Pace’s judgment on offense, and failing to re-sign a Pro Bowl-level playmaker who just turned 27 points more toward a rebuild than chasing a title.

It’s fine, by the way, to make pass rushing the top priority — Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Quinn account for nearly 21% of their cap space this season and 28.5% in 2021 — but the stalemate with Robinson once again highlights how lopsidedly Pace views his roster. It’s no coincidence that the Bears were the No. 9 defense and No. 30 offense over his first five seasons, a stretch in which they went 34-46.

Few teams have won big recently by dominating defensively and just scraping by on offense. In the last five seasons, 17 of the 20 teams that reached the conference title game had a top-10 offense. Two years ago, the four finalists were ranked first through fourth in scoring.

But that’s not how Pace thinks, and it’s evident by how he spends. The Bears invested $22.9 million more on defense than offense over the last two years. Four of their five biggest cap hits this season are on defense, and next season it’s the entire top five.

And here they are, struggling to scrape together enough space to keep their best offensive -player.