This is an awful risk, Lord Vader. This had better work.
The words of Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope have been stuck in my head all day with respect to the Bears season ending press conference featuring a team chairman, president, general manager, and head coach insisting that staying the course was the right decision. And while there isn’t a 1-for-1 comparison to be made here (Tarkin was talking to Vader, who had just let the Millennium Falcon escape safely, with a tracking device in tow, instead of blowing it smithereens, which would’ve destroyed the Princess of Alderaan and cut the head off the rebellion … while the Bears just … you know, held a press conference revealing the security of everybody’s job), I think you get the idea.
This is an awful risk, Chairman McCaskey. This had better work.
The Chicago Bears are taking a significant risk by retaining GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy for 2021. Moreover, the team is rolling the dice in a major way by doing so without an extension. There are real risks being made by a power structure betting on culture and continuity of a .500 team. That sentence, on its own, is unsettling.
It is scary that Pace is staying on, in charge of draft and cash assets without an extension. The Bears have a first-round pick for the first time since 2018. And while the cap situation doesn’t look good now, Pace is no stranger to borrowing from the future to prop up the team in the present-day. There are significant risks in giving someone with no-stock in the long-term health of the organization (because his contract is up at year’s end) real capital to work with in the hopes that he can fix things for this season. In short, Pace could conceivably risk it all for 2021, flop, and leave the next GM with a barren cupboard. And if that sounds familiar, it’s essentially what Phil Emery left Pace when he arrived in 2015. Full circle. Sigh.
What’s worse is that we don’t need to look that far into the future to see the ramifications of retaining Pace on what is essentially a one-year “prove it” deal and Nagy with just two years remaining on his deal.
Look no further than how the Bears’ defensive coordinator search has been going. We’ve seen internal candidate (Jay Rodgers) bow out to leave for the Chargers. Another candidate (Aaron Glenn) told the Bears “thanks, but no thanks” to sign on with the Lions (and their loopy head coach). A third candidate (Jonathan Gannon) might join Glenn in bypassing the Bears, as he has other suitors with more stability in their respective organizational structures. This leaves the Bears’ current candidates being: James Bettcher (who didn’t coach in 2020), Mike Singletary (who hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2016), and George Edwards (who served as a Senior Defensive Assistant in 2020).
This isn’t to say those candidates can’t do a bang-up job upon arrival. But that’s not the cast of candidates one would’ve expected for a job that includes opportunities to coach Pro Bowl caliber players such as Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson. Chicago’s defensive coordinator gig *SHOULD* be a plum job. But based on the early returns, maybe it’s not as attractive as once thought.
And for further unintended consequences of Pace’s retention, check out the exodus of assistants leaving the Bears. In addition to Rodgers’ departure, the Bears just watched Pass Game Coordinator Dave Ragone and Running Backs Coach Charles London leave for Atlanta. To be clear, I understand losing coaches from an underwhelming offense doesn’t seem bad. But that the Falcons were eager to pick up both shows how much respect those coaches have throughout the league. Outsiders likely see these coaches leaving like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Ultimately, it’s not a great look.
Of course, things can change in the future. It’s possible Pace and Nagy do what must be done this offseason. They can fill out a strong coaching staff, round out the roster, and make necessary schematic fixes in the offseason. There’s a non-zero chance it can happen, so I must acknowledge it. Unfortunately, they’ll be going about working on it from a disadvantageous spot. Pace and Nagy are behind the 8-ball because of the decisions upper management made to keep the status quo.
It’s an awful risk, as Grand Moff Tarkin would put it. One that had better work.