The Bears were coming off one of the most embarrassing losses of the John Fox era — a 26-0 debacle in Seattle in which starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw for 63 yards — when general manager Ryan Pace decided to offload veterans acquired by predecessor Phil Emery.
Pace dealt Jared Allen, a defensive end miscast as an outside linebacker, and oft-injured inside linebacker Jon Bostic to the Panthers and Patriots, respectively, landing sixth-round picks for each on the same September day.
The year was 2015.
Pace hasn’t traded a veteran during the season since.
So it was no surprise Tuesday that, given one last chance to turn a 3-5 season into a full rebuild, Pace did the one thing his team hasn’t been able to do on game day: He passed.
The Bears are riding a three-game losing streak. They have only two draft picks in the first four rounds next spring. Yet Pace chose to ride out the season with the veterans on his roster, even those — such as wide receiver Allen Robinson, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and quarterback Andy Dalton — in the last year of their contracts.
Holding on to them signals that the Bears don’t believe they’re out of playoff contention, even though Football Outsiders gives them a 2.6% chance of making the postseason.
It would be maddening if it wasn’t so predictable. Standing pat makes little sense. But the context of the season for Pace and coach Matt Nagy made the Bears’ inactivity wholly unsurprising.
In announcing the Bears were retaining Pace and Nagy in January, chairman George McCaskey said he wanted to see “progress” from both men to keep them employed beyond this season. President/CEO Ted Phillips said he’d watch for “improvement.” Holding a midseason fire sale would not have signaled either.
Bears management brought the present-vs.-future debate upon themselves. Pace has maintained since January that, despite human nature dictating otherwise, he would do what was best for the long-term interests of the Bears — not just try to win more games in 2021 to keep his job.
He did the former when he traded up to draft Fields. But the decision to start Andy Dalton rather than hold an open competition reeked of a franchise more worried about short-term results. The issue was made moot when Dalton suffered a Week 2 bone bruise and forced the Bears to fast-track Fields. It has become clear in his six starts, though, that Fields’ chemistry with his pass catchers suffered from being stuck with backups all training camp.
The trade for Fields — the Bears gave the Giants their first- and fourth-round picks in 2022 as part of the package — eliminated any benefit of Pace tanking the second half of the season. Losing only helps the Giants’ draft stock.
The same trade, though, made moving veterans for draft picks more necessary. They have selections in Rounds 2, 3 and 6 — and two fifth-rounders, thanks to the Anthony Miller trade.
Robinson, who is playing on the franchise tag, was the most obvious trade candidate. But the Bears were hard-pressed to land more than a third-round pick — which they believe they’ll receive in the compensatory round if Robinson leaves via free agency in March.
Other veterans could have made sense to trade. Dalton could have been a good fit for a Saints team reeling from the season-ending injury to Jameis Winston. The Bears have been trying to trade Nick Foles for eight months. Hicks pushed for a new contract through training camp. Star outside linebacker Khalil Mack missed the game Sunday with an injured foot and has a ridiculously high dead-cap number next year were the Bears to move him.
Pace, though, decided to do nothing. Any Bears improvement will have to come from within. And if it doesn’t, Pace might not have the privilege of worrying about next year’s draft, anyway.