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Bears GM Ryan Pace voted Sporting News’ NFL Executive of the Year

PHOENIX — Bears general manager Ryan Pace was named the Sporting News’ NFL Executive of the Year on Sunday at the league’s annual meetings at the Arizona Biltmore.

In January, Colts general manager Chris Ballard was named the executive of the year by the Pro Football Writers of America. Pace’s honor is different. It was voted on by his peers.

The Bears extended Pace’s contract through 2021 after firing coach John Fox after the 2017 season. The Bears went 14-34 in Pace’s three years with Fox.

Pace then hired Matt Nagy, who was named the NFL’s coach of the year after the Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North. The Bears made their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace at practice. | Brian O'Mahoney/For the Sun-Times

Bears general manager Ryan Pace will draft first at No. 87. | Brian O'Mahoney/For the Sun-Times

The Bears made many notable roster additions last season. Pace signed receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton in free agency.

Pace’s 2018 draft class — highlighted by the play of linebacker Roquan Smith, left guard James Daniels, receiver Anthony Miller and defensive tackle Bilal Nichols — also was a major success.

Every major contributor of the Bears’ top-rated defense also was either retained, drafted or signed by Pace. The Bears matched the Packers’ offer sheet for cornerback Kyle Fuller and re-signed veteran Prince Amukamara to an extension last year.

But Pace’s most notable move came less than a week before the regular-season opener against the Packers. He acquired All Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack from the Raiders in exchange for a first- and sixth-round selections in 2019 and first- and third-round picks in 2020. The Bears also received a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2020 in the deal.

The Bears’ 2017 draft class also made significant strides last season, starting with Mitch Trubisky’s development under Nagy. Running back/returner Tarik Cohen and safety Eddie Jackson — Pace’s two fourth-round picks that year — were first-team All Pro selections, along with Mack and Fuller.

The Bears also were represented by a league-high seven players in the Pro Bowl after alternates were added. It included Trubisky, Cohen, Jackson, Fuller, center Cody Whitehair, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Cohen, Jackson, Fuller, Mack and Hicks were original Pro Bowl selections.