As Bears coach Matt Nagy has hurtled toward an inevitable firing over the last two months, facing the boos at Soldier Field and relentless pointed questions in press conferences, general manager Ryan Pace has been in the shadows.
Pace isn’t on the sideline and doesn’t talk to the media during the season, so it’s easy to forget about him sometimes. But all the complaints about Nagy should also be directed to the man who hired him.
A lot of “collaboration” went into the Bears’ plunge since 2018, and Pace has had as much or more effect than Nagy on how far the team has fallen. Nagy’s contributions to the mess come with a reminder that Pace picked him.
Chairman George McCaskey portrayed them as a partnership when he opted to retain both a year ago, and it wouldn’t make much sense to disentangle their futures now.
Heading into the season finale against the Vikings on Sunday, which is widely assumed to be Nagy’s last game, Pace would have a tough time making a convincing argument to stay. His best shot would be to take credit for drafting Justin Fields, but there isn’t enough evidence yet to assure the Bears that he’s the franchise quarterback they need.
Over Pace’s seven seasons, the Bears are tied with the Bengals for the eighth-worst record in the NFL and have scored the sixth-fewest points. And while he has made some smart moves defensively, that side of the ball has slipped from elite to average over the last four seasons.
The Texans, Dolphins, Falcons and Panthers all have better records during the Pace era. Those teams, and many others, made changes at the top over that span.
The Bears have had just one winning season and made the playoffs twice, failing to win a game either time. Keep in mind that the Jaguars reached an AFC Championship Game in that period.
Along the way, Pace has missed on several first- and second-round draft picks — most notably quarterback Mitch Trubisky. He found some gems in the later rounds, but those high picks are typically the ones that catapult a team into contention.
Quarterback has been an ongoing problem for Pace, who also paid up for Mike Glennon, traded for Nick Foles and signed Andy Dalton. Fields has high potential, but his development has been hindered by roster moves that left the Bears with an unreliable offensive line and limited skill players, as well as Nagy’s ineffectiveness.
Again, who hired Nagy?
He looked like a good choice on the surface in 2018, when he went 12-4 and won the NFC North, but didn’t take much digging to see that he hadn’t fixed the offense or Trubisky.
It only got worse, and now Nagy goes into a meaningless final game in which he won’t even be calling plays because he was compelled to surrender that responsibility to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor for a second consecutive season.
Maybe Nagy will call plays, actually. He served up one last word salad when asked a yes-or-no question about it Friday.
“I’m not going to call plays, no,” he said. “And I might. If I decide to, I will. But we’re going to let Bill go ahead and continue to do what he’s been doing a great job at this whole time. So we’ll have a little fun out there.”
In the end, the Bears have a fledgling offense and declining defense and little resources to fix those problems. OverTheCap projects them to have $41 million in space next season, which could help, but the best path is always through the draft. The Bears have just two picks in the first four rounds next season.
It’s not an ideal starting point for a major rebuild. And Pace is chiefly responsible for putting them in this position.