Already this offseason, the Chicago Bears have addressed needs at tight end (Jimmy Graham), quarterback (Nick Foles), and pass-rusher (Robert Quinn) with new players at each spot to open the new league year. And in a different timeline, those deals might’ve been widely celebrated by Bears fans looking forward to another season of contention in Chicago.
Unfortunately, we live and operate in this universe, and those moves weren’t executed in a vacuum. Indeed, those particular decisions have led to some serious questions regarding Bears GM Ryan Pace’s decision making, specifically with respect to his asset management. So let’s discuss those legitimate concerns through the lens of his offseason moves.
It feels right to start at quarterback, where the Bears traded the compensatory fourth-round draft pick (just received for losing Adrian Amos in free agency) to the Jaguars in exchange for Nick Foles.
The move, while understandable, means the Bears must take on the remaining salary on Foles’ deal, which, if you don’t know, is quite a pricey given the expected production. And while, a contract restructuring is expected to make things slightly more team-friendly, trading much-needed draft capital at a moment like this just doesn’t seem wise. As you’ll recall, the Bears have no first round pick for the second straight draft and no third round pick altogether (Nos. 43, 50, 164, 197, 201, 227, 234 overall).
What they do have, however, are needs … almost everywhere (RG1, WR2, HB2, OT3, DL3, OLB3, ILB3, ILB4, CB2, SS1).
To be fair, the acquisition of Foles isn’t problematic in isolation. He certainly fits the mold of what the Bears wanted in a new QB, he’s shown that he can be competent and successful in the system, and he’s been plenty lauded for his ability to read and process defenses. But the cost of doing business was a fourth-round pick and that feels rich when the lone reported competition for his services came from the Colts, who reportedly offered a fifth-round pick to make it happen.
At some point, the Colts moved onto Philip Rivers, which means, in theory, the Bears probably could’ve let the market come to them instead of jumping the gun/out-bidding the field. There was simply no rush to get something done before the start of the new league year. Or was it really that important to send a message to Mitch Trubisky that things are about to change?
Mostly, I don’t want us to overlook the draft compensation sent to Jacksonville as “just a fourth-round pick.” Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Nick Kwiatkoski, Bilal Nichols, Deon Bush, and DeAndre Houston-Carson were each drafted by Pace in the fourth round or later. That’s two first-team All-Pros (Jackson, Cohen), a Pro Bowl running back (Howard), two other solid starters (Kwiatkoski, Nichols), and two core special teamers (Bush, Houston-Carson) who performed beyond their rookie contracts. These picks are clearly valuable and the Bears’ front office seems to have a knack for finding quality talent deep in the draft. So why give up a pick that easily?
Whether or not Foles is the “right” guys is irrelevant, it seems clear that Pace overpaid – especially given the Bears draft circumstances.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t his only overpay of the offseason:
Ryan Pace really knows how to read a market. Graham’s $9M guaranteed also second most. pic.twitter.com/53mgRhP8NQ
— Joe Ostrowski (@JoeO670) March 20, 2020
The Bears and Packers got into a little bidding war for Jimmy Graham two offseason ago, with the Packers ultimately coming away with the free agent.
Once a model of excellence at the position, Graham, 33, is far removed from his best days in the league. During two seasons with the Packers (32 total games), he gained a combined 1,083 yards with just 5 total touchdowns. By contrast, Graham gained 1,215 yards and scored 16 touchdowns as a first-team all-pro with the Saints back in 2013.
That’s not to say there’s absolutely no reason for optimism – indeed, Graham is probably the best option on the Bears roster – but that’s also the problem.
Instead of signing Graham in 2018, Pace went out and signed Trey Burton to a four-year, $32M deal that he is still playing under now. Burton had a fine first season in Chicago, but was a critical-absentee during the Bears playoff loss to the Eagles and missed most of the 2019 season. Although maybe that deal wouldn’t have been necessary had the Bears second-round reach for Adam Shaheen hadn’t been such a whiff.
One bad pick, leads to one unfortunate signing, leads to another free agent reach, and the carousel goes ’round.
I’m not advocating for an even pricier pursuit of someone like Austin Hooper – indeed, the Bears may have been financially prudent, given the circumstances – but this is a whole lot of precious cap space to reserve for yet another tight end when viable alternate options were available.
Raise your hand if you though the Bears were going to spend $70M on a pass-rusher, two years after trading for Khalil Mack.
Put you hand down, you liar.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Robert Quinn will be a really significant upgrade at edge defender for the Chicago Bears, there’s equally no doubt that it’s a move they probably would’ve loved not to make. Despite a host of needs on the roster, the Bears have come to terms on a deal for Quinn that includes $30M in guarantees and another $6.1M cap hit in Year 1. Given that there’s roughly $7.3M left, that’s cutting things awfully tight.
But like every other move on this list, it was the right one … if only out of necessity/in a vacuum. The Bears traded their first (11th overall) and fourth round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2016 for the privilege of selecting Leonard Floyd … who’s not playing 2020 with the Chicago Bears, who declined to pick up his fifth-year option, but instead with the Rams, where he’s signed as a free agent.
So the Bears traded two picks to move up to take a player (Floyd) who ultimately needed to be replaced by another, pricier player (Quinn) four years later, despite already having one of best and most expensive players alongside him (Mack). That’s simply not good asset management.
So … Now What?
The Bears have improved their roster for 2020 with the additions of Foles, Graham, and Quinn. But by how much won’t be determined until all of the other pieces get on the field. And at what cost is something that will be learned even further down the line. Because even when games are played, questions remain about the long-term viability of this team. What does the window of contention look like? What are the plans to add cost-controlled young talent that would help soften the blow of having so many high-priced players? Whose contracts need to be restructured (or even cut) in order to make this all work? These are the types of questions that are asked when poor decisions are stacked on top of each other.
At least the Bears are positioning themselves well to take on the maximum four compensatory picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Maybe Pace is setting up whomever follows him to use those picks toward something worthwhile.
Luis Medina contributed to this post.