More than anything in the NFL draft that ended Saturday, Bears general manager Ryan Pace established himself as the most impactful – and polarizing – person at Halas Hall.
The Jay Cutler era is over in the city. The John Fox effect has been minimized throughout the organization. The Mitch Trubisky tenure just started in Chicago. The emergence of Pace as the newest piñata in town dominated the weekend for the Bears.
Pace’s third draft unquestionably goes down as his most unorthodox, not necessarily the adjective an NFL executive wants attached to their work. Unfortunately, it fits. Unwittingly, Pace made this year’s draft all about himself with five picks that made Bears fans go, “Hmmmm.’’
Or, to be more accurate, “$#$##&&^!!”
Only a general manager with job security goes about his job as confidently as Pace did – but confidence doesn’t always deliver competence.
The longer the 3-day process went on, the clearer it became that Pace had determined the 2017 draft would address 2018 and beyond. A three-win team last season didn’t supplement the roster enough to think the Bears can win more than five games next season.
Only one of the five players drafted – Alabama safety Eddie Jackson, taken in the fourth round – figures to contribute next fall. The other four draft picks qualify as developmental projects, with all but Trubisky taken almost as an ode to the navigation systems of Bears scouts. Look where we can go to find players.
One day, the next Bears coach may love this draft. But my guess is Fox went to bed Saturday night hating it, no matter what he said to the media. A 62-year-old head coach with 2 years left on his contract fits awkwardly in a rebuilding job as long and extensive as this draft signifies. Fox and Pace might have gotten their stories straight, but nothing suggested the two men have synchronized their watches for winning.
General managers concerned about winning now don’t use their first two draft picks on a quarterback with 13 career college starts and a Division II tight end who was a former basketball star. Or later take a free safety who relies on range and just had a screw removed from his leg. Or a 5-foot, 6-inch jitterbug from North Carolina A&T, not exactly the cradle of NFL running backs. Or an offensive lineman from Kutztown, the alma mater of Hall of Fame wide receiver Andre Reed that produced its last NFL player 21 years ago.
What does Pace have against major-college football players with experience?
Pace started strong Thursday night when he identified the quarterback he wanted and boldly moved up one spot to draft Trubisky, who will be worth the three mid-round picks if he succeeds. The heavy criticism Pace received for the deal by people who think they’re Mike Mayock focused too much on the justifiable cost – two third-rounders and a fourth, which likely amounts to a starter and special-teams player – for a shot at a potential franchise quarterback.
In my mind, it was a risk worth taking for an organization that had missed nine of the last 10 playoffs and needed something to inspire a resurgence. At 7:16 p.m. Thursday, Pace provided it.
On Friday, the credibility Pace had built up began to take a hit. One progressive draft pick doesn’t automatically make it a progressive draft. For example, three safeties were drafted in the second round after Pace traded down from the 34th spot to 45th, where the Bears opened eyes around the league when they took tight end Adam Shaheen out of Ashland.
Maybe one day Shaheen really will remind people of Rob Gronkowski. Maybe fourth-round running back Tarik Cohen eventually will resemble Darren Sproles. Maybe Jackson stays healthy, and offensive lineman Jordan Morgan makes Kutztown proud. But in what NFL scouts agreed was one of the deepest defensive drafts in years, the Bears came away with one defensive player.
No matter how much Pace spins it, that seems oblivious – not to mention telling, considering how much Fox favors that side of the ball.
The potential conflict Pace’s offseason moves have created also cannot be ignored. Start with the quarterback situation. When Trubisky innocently mentioned Friday that he had yet to hear from newly signed quarterback Mike Glennon 20 hours after getting drafted, it stood out. Think Glennon would have waited that long to reach out if the Bears had taken a wide receiver at No. 2?
The Bears owe Glennon nothing but the $18.5 million his contract guarantees, but it’s fair to wonder how a 27-year-old who signed to start truly feels about his new team anointing a rookie the franchise quarterback. Pace might want to keep his eye on the thermometer in the quarterbacks “meeting room” he raved about Thursday. And if Glennon handles Trubisky like the amiable professional he is reputed to be, you wonder about his relationship with Pace if assurances were made during free-agency.
The changing Pace-Fox dynamic will merit monitoring, too. Dysfunction threatens the Bears as much as an aggressive pass rush. A source called “inaccurate” an ESPN report that Pace kept his plan for taking Trubisky from Fox until hours before making the trade, but acknowledged that the general manager operated more independently preparing for this draft than in past years.
The Pace of this draft left Fox behind. But it still feels like the Bears are playing catch-up.
Bears draft picks
1st round – Mitchell Trubisky, QB, UNC
2nd – Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland
4th – Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama
4th – Tarik Cohen, RB, N.C. A&T
5th – Jordan Morgan, G, Kutztown