Bears content to bring back Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy after back-to-back 8-8 seasons
Both are expected back for 2021, though the team hasn’t announced anything officially. The Bears went 8-8 and finished five games behind the Packers in the NFC North for a second consecutive season.
After consecutive plodding, fruitless seasons, the Bears seem to think everything’s fine.
Nothing is official yet, but a source said they’re expected to retain general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, however, is retiring.
That’s it. That’s the shake-up after back-to-back 8-8 seasons with no sign of an imminent breakthrough into title contention.
Bringing back Pace and Nagy means another offseason of looking for quick fixes as the organization wallows in the delusion that the team is a couple of tweaks away from being able to tangle with the Chiefs, Packers and the rest of the NFL’s elite. That clearly isn’t true, and the result of that wishful thinking coming out of 2019 was another 8-8 record in 2020.
Neither Pace nor Nagy has been an all-out failure, but the case against them was substantial — especially Pace, who has steered the team to a 42-54 record and no playoff victories in his six seasons. The Dolphins, Raiders and Cardinals are among the 22 teams with a better record during that span.
The quarterback on whom Pace bet his career, Mitch Trubisky, is fresh off another reminder that he’s not a competent NFL starter. Pace traded up to draft Trubisky at No. 2 overall in 2017, a waste of the franchise’s highest pick since 1951 as he missed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Incredibly, Pace will presumably make the call on the team’s quarterback, too, by hanging on to his job for another year.
The rest of Pace’s draft record is messy. His only good first-round pick was inside linebacker Roquan Smith after whiffing on Trubisky, Leonard Floyd (No. 9 in 2016) and Kevin White (No. 7 in 2015). He also blew a 2017 second-rounder on Adam Shaheen, and trading up to take Anthony Miller in the second round in 2018 isn’t looking so smart, either.
That said, he struck gold on fourth-rounders Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen, second-rounders Eddie Goldman and Cody Whitehair and fifth-rounder Jordan Howard. His recent class, headlined by Darnell Mooney, Jaylon Johnson and Cole Kmet, looks solid, as well.
There’s a more fundamental issue, though, that goes beyond win-loss record and draft history: Pace has shown no ability to build a functional offense — the Bears have scored the fourth-fewest points over the last six seasons — and his defensive blueprint has been crumbling.
Pace devoted 27.2% of the payroll to Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn, thinking they’d lead a formidable pass rush that would create a bonanza of takeaways. Instead, that trio combined for 14½ sacks, and the Bears finished 25th in takeaways at 18.
Mack, who cost two first-round picks in a trade and is owed $53.8 million over the next two seasons before the Bears can even consider getting out of his contract, had nine sacks. Pace signed Quinn to the second-largest contract of any free agent last offseason — $70 million over five years with $30 million guaranteed — and he delivered only two sacks.
They can’t pin all of that on Pagano.
Nagy had a better argument than Pace to get another chance. He led the Bears impeccably through the coronavirus protocols and never appeared to lose his locker room. He’s ideal as the public leader of the organization.
He hasn’t been so great otherwise. He was hired to orchestrate an exhilarating offense and develop Trubisky into a functional quarterback, but neither has happened. Nagy also remains allergic to running the ball, repeats mistakes and too often refuses to adjust his scheme to suit his limited personnel.
His 28-20 record includes seven wins in which his team scored fewer than 20 points — games in which the defense, with which he has no involvement, carried him.
That’s hardly justification to keep him.
But, then again, the Bears were content to go 8-8 and call it a successful season because they fell into the last NFC wild-card spot, so they probably see little need to do anything.