In his six seasons as Chicago Bears general manager, Ryan Pace has brought in three quarterbacks to be the starter.
Perhaps the most significant result of this week’s news that Pace will return for the 2021 season is that he will have a hand in likely selecting a fourth.
Questions about the Bears quarterback situation — and why there’s belief Pace can find the right player this time — dominated Wednesday’s video conference call with Chairman George McCaskey, President and CEO Ted Phillips, Pace and coach Matt Nagy.
Pace’s inability to get the position right — first signing Mike Glennon, then drafting Mitch Trubisky and finally trading for Nick Foles — arguably is the biggest reason the Bears are stuck in a funk of mediocrity.
Glennon is long gone with the $18.5 million the Bears paid him for four starts. Trubisky is headed off to free agency after failing to live up to the expectations placed upon the second overallpick in 2017. And Foles remains with the Bears as a very high-priced backup.
As the Bears zero in on what next to do at the position, team decision-makers pointed to one reason they believe things could be different this time. Pace will be working with Nagy and possibly offensive coaches such as Bill Lazor and John DeFilippo in evaluating quarterbacks.
“The thing that we’re very much looking forward to, and feel very positive about, is, again, a collaboration between Ryan and Matt,” McCaskey said. “That’ll be immensely helpful going into the upcoming draft.
“Matt’s been involved in player personnel decisions since he arrived here. Of course, Ryan has the final say on selection and roster decisions, but it’s how well they work together. They have vigorous discussions, and we think that their collaboration will result in the right decisions for the Bears.”
Pace stressed that the “whole offseason” is about getting the quarterback position right and said “everything is on the table” when it comes to choosing one.
He used those same words again when asked if the Bears will explore re-signing Trubisky. The four-year starter played a handful of decent games in December and said Sunday he would consider returning. But it’s fair to wonder if all parties would benefit from a fresh start.
Pace also emphasized his collaboration with Nagy, pointing to the draft process when they identified a need at running back in 2019 and tight end and cornerback in 2020, selecting David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Jaylon Johnson.
The Bears have the No. 20 pick this year and like all teams will face many COVID-19-related challenges in their search. Events such as the NFL scouting combine and college pro days remain up in the air.
“Why do we feel strong about getting that position right? It goes back to that, the connected vision,” Pace said. “When we identify what we are going to do at a position, no different than anything else, it’s a collaborative effort — free agency, trade, draft. But I just have a ton of confidence attacking it together.”
The Bears’ emphasis on that collaboration is important given the questions that have emerged over the last four years about the organization’s process in selecting Trubisky instead of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes or Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in 2017. Skepticism about Pace’s evaluations — and a potential lack of checks and balances within the Bears organization — has run rampant.
Pace declined to get into much detail Wednesday about what he felt his missteps were in his 2017 decision-making process. But he did say he learns through all of his experiences and pointed to his work with Nagy this year.
It’s significant because Nagy was the Chiefs offensive coordinator in 2017 when they picked Mahomes 10th overall, and Nagy said he can share those experiences with Pace.
“Every person, every scout, every coach has their own way of how they go about it,” Nagy said. “When I was in Kansas City with Coach (Andy) Reid and a lot of other coaches who are still there and some that are gone, we had our own process. So the only thing that I can do is make sure that I share what that was and how we did it. And then we talk through, ‘OK, is that something we want to do and do we like it?’ (And we do it) along with some of these other coaches as well who are on our staff who have been in quarterback evaluation processes. That’s valuable too.”
Of course, the Pace-Nagy collaboration did not work out when it came to Foles this season.
Pace and Nagy listed many reasons Foles’ seven starts didn’t go as planned when they traded a fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire him. That included a truncated offseason because of COVID-19 and offensive line and run game troubles. Pace said there is more evaluation to be done on Foles. But the Bears still owe him $9 million guaranteed, so it would appear he’ll be with the team next season.
Who is in the quarterbacks room with Foles is the big question.
If the Bears draft a quarterback for the future, it begs the question of whether Pace and Nagy will be given time to develop that quarterback.
McCaskey didn’t quite answer a question on the topic, saying the Bears evaluate yearly based on their body of work. Pace vowed to do what is in the best long-term interest of the franchise, even if he’s facing a must-win season.
“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 what’s best for the Bears. That’s every move we make. That is how Matt and I will attack this. There will be a number of ways we can go about it. Again, everything is on the table. We just finished the season. But it’s always what’s best for the team, and that’s long term.”