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Bet on overly aggressive offseason by Bears GM Ryan Pace with job at stake

Pace says he’ll be balancing long- and short-term interests in the upcoming offseason, but it’s more likely he’ll go all out to keep from getting fired.

Ryan Pace is 42-54 as Bears general manager, including 16-16 the last two seasons.
Ryan Pace is 42-54 as Bears general manager, including 16-16 the last two seasons.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

For a sneak preview of what the Bears’ upcoming offseason will look like, simply flip back to what they did a year ago.

It’s going to get reckless.

It’s easy to imagine general manager Ryan Pace selling off draft picks and outbidding himself on free agents because we’ve already seen it.

In a similar win-or-get-fired scenario — or so everyone thought — last offseason, freewheeling Pace gave pass rusher Robert Quinn a five-year, $70 million deal, signed tight end Jimmy Graham to a two-year, $16 million contract after he spent two weeks floating in free agency with no takers and delivered the double whammy of giving up a fourth-round pick and committing three years and $24 million to reel in quarterback Nick Foles.

Those are the moves of someone who thinks his team is a couple of pieces away from being a title contender and knows he’s at high risk of being axed. And both of those factors are in play this offseason, too.

OverTheCap has the Bears $89,572 over a projected $176 million salary cap for 2021, but there are some obvious cuts that would make space, and there’s optimism that the cap won’t be that low.

The Bears also can restructure contracts to kick cap hits down the road, but they’ve done it so often lately that they probably can’t afford to do much more of it.

“Every year, there are ways to create cap space,” Pace said. “And those are all important decisions that we have to make. . . . [We will be] analyzing what is out there in free agency but being conscious and being responsible.”

But don’t worry, Pace said. He’d never mortgage the Bears’ future, which could belong to a new general manager in 2022, to save his job — even though that’s what virtually every NFL GM on the hot seat has always done.

“Every decision I make is the right one for the franchise,” Pace said. “That’s just how we operate. That’s just natural. It’s not going to be thinking short term. It’s always thinking [about] what’s best for the Bears. That’s every move we make. There will be a number of ways we can go about it. Everything is on the table. . . . But it’s always what’s best for the team, and that’s long term.”

That’s suspect, but perhaps the Bears will have some checks in place and Pace will have the self-control to stop short of replicating the mess the Texans made the last few years.

That said, is it really so bad if he goes all in? After decades of perpetual mediocrity, if the Bears aren’t willing to begin a proper rebuild, at least this would be interesting.

If it works and the Bears are improved and compelling, that’s a good thing. People could probably tolerate selling off the future if it meant the Bears were in the mix for the Super Bowl next season.

The problem, of course, is that it’s devastating if it doesn’t work. It’s one thing to pay the price for those all-in decisions after championships, as the Blackhawks have done. It’s another to stumble out of the fog of another miserable season, only to find that you have no draft picks or salary-cap space to fix a multitude of deficiencies.