The 2018 offseason one was a fruitful one for Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace. He hired a coach who would later be named the NFL’s Coach of the Year, re-signed a cornerback who would prove to be a first-team All-Pro performer, drafted four rookies who played starting-caliber snaps, and traded for one of the best defensive players in the world.
It all added up to a 12-win season and Pace being named the NFL’s Executive of the Year, as voted by his peers.
And yet, he was close to joining John Fox as unemployed ex-Bears in the winter of 2018.
In a wide-ranging interview with Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times, President Ted Phillips discussed how close the team was to dismissing Pace as the team’s general manager at the same time it cut ties with the head coach. Pace still had two years left on his contract, but Phillips figured he wanted the new coach and GM to be in on the same page. That’s not uncommon, but it would have been the second time in recent team history in which the franchise has cleaned house in that manner. If you’ll recall, GM Phil Emery and Head Coach Marc Trestman were dismissed after two disastrous years running the Bears into the ground.
So what saved Pace’s job? Look no further than the team’s draft classes from 2016 and 2017.
“There was at least a sense in the ’16 and ’17 picks that, ‘OK, we may have hit something special here,'” Phillips said. “But we don’t know yet.”
The 2016 and 2017 drafts have produced five Pro Bowlers (center Cody Whitehair, running back Jordan Howard, quarterback Mitch Trubisky, safety Eddie Jackson, and running back Tarik Cohen), four solid depth pieces (defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, safety Deon Bush, and tight end Adam Shaheen), two core special teamers (Kwiatkoski, DeAndre Houston-Carson), and a pass-rushing outside linebacker who is due for a breakout (lookin’ at you, Leonard Floyd). There was a lot to dream on as far as upside is concerned, but it was also a risky roll of the dice.
Phillips and the Bears organization walked a tight-rope over troubled waters by extending Pace so his contract would match that of the coach he was hiring to bring in. But Pace has since rewarded Phillips’ trust with a home-run hire at head coach and by bringing in a wave of talent via free agency and the draft that opened up a competitive window. The risk was worth the reward, but a 12-win season and an NFC North title should just be the beginning of some special times in Chicago.
For more on Phillips and his optimistic vantage point regarding the future of the team, Jahns’ piece touches all the bases. Give it a read!