An offseason of reckoning should be on the horizon in Chicago, and the person running the show at Halas Hall should be standing on the front lines ready to roll and take on all challenges.
You’re up, Ryan Pace.
Pace has his work cut out for him this offseason. But it’s not as if he’s trying to unearth secrets of the dark lords of the Sith or hunt down ghosts following paths with no leads. This is professional football, where at least five playoff teams from 2018 will have not made it in 2019. But before fixes are made, Pace has some deep soul-searching to do.
It begins with the quarterback he went all-in to get back in the 2017 NFL Draft. If Pace isn’t honest with himself or shows an inability to differentiate between what Mitch Trubisky is now and what his arm talent and athleticism could allow him to be if everything goes right (plus some sort of discount rate if it comes to it, given what we’ve seen in his first 2.5 years), then none of what follows in the offseason will matter. Whatever the Bears need at quarterback in 2020, Mitch Trubisky ain’t it … but the team isn’t exactly going to quit the quarterback cold turkey, either. That means Matt Nagy – who certainly wasn’t it in 2019 – will likely be in a place to try and squeeze the most out of Trubisky to make the most of this situation.
In short, Pace needs to figure out if the coach and quarterback he hitched his career bandwagon to will lead him to the promised land or the unemployment line before his contract expires. But that is just where the “fun” begins.
Take a moment to think about the other places the Bears need fixing.
An incomplete running backs room did as much as anything to hurt Trubisky’s progress this season. Jordan Howard wasn’t necessarily missed, as rookie David Montgomery was healthier and gained more scrimmage yards than the back he replaced at the top of the depth chart. But Tarik Cohen proved not to be a capable option at RB2. Meanwhile, Mike Davis (who should have been Howard’s replacement within the scheme) was jettisoned because it was wiser to admit a mistake and position the team to snag a compensatory draft pick than to keep doing the same thing in hopes of un-compelled change.
A collection of tight ends that left something to be desired when camp opened up is in the same place now as when the season started. Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, and Ben Braunecker are on injured reserve. But it’s not as if any one of them was standing out for the right reasons when they were on the field and healthy. Pace could clean house at this position group, save an estimated $3.82 million by parting ways with the top three guys on the depth chat, and re-allocate available cap space and even a draft pick to re-construct the room. Unfortunately, when the acquisitions of Burton, Shaheen, and Dion Sims are fresh in your memory space, it is tough to completely trust Pace to make the right move at the position.
The wide receivers room could use a touch-up, too. Beyond Allen Robinson, there are more questions than answers. Taylor Gabriel’s concussion issues have left the Bears without a reliable WR2. Javon Wims is still a work in progress, while fellow Georgia product Riley Ridley is still very much rough around the edges. At least Anthony Miller appeared to figure it out toward the end of the year, but the inconsistency in his game has kept him from getting a full grasp of his potential. This draft class figures to have a deep group of receivers. Perhaps the Bears’ decision-makers would be wise to snag a good one.
Not to be left out, the offensive line probably needs the most work of all (it also happens to impact everything else the most). Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie need real competition at their respective tackle positions. Stability in the middle is needed, too. That means Pace, Nagy, Offensive Line Coach Harry Hiestand, and any other decision-makers need to come to a conclusion on what the interior line should look like moving forward. Because another year of position switches is only going to stunt the group’s growth more as time goes along.
At least Pace knows the time to assess the situation in Chicago is already underway.
“The evaluation is ongoing for the entire team, especially in these next two games,” Pace said in a radio interview before the team’s 26-3 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football. “These games are important to us and our goal is to win these games.”
The 2019 Bears were a disappointment. Full stop. From the opening night clunker against the Packers to going out with a whimper in the home finale against the Chiefs, the Bears found new, dispiriting ways to lose throughout the year. And in the end, this has left us to discuss a team that had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and even dared to entertain the idea of building a budding dynasty through the lens of a failed season. Because in a year that was – for all intents and purposes – Super Bowl or bust, the Bears busted (and did so spectacularly).
Since the Bears aren’t participating in the postseason, we’ll have some extra time to dig through the issues that brought us to this point. And because there is no convenient scapegoat (sorry, Cody Parkey) to take the heat for the self-destruction of this particular team, we can spray to all fields in evaluating the team’s troubles from top to bottom. Which, yes, starts at the top with the general manager.
And those are just the issues on offense. Yikes. Filling in the patch-work on defense probably could have been another 900 words, which speaks to the all-encompassing issues at Pace’s feet entering 2020.