The 2020 season was “The Year of Reckoning” for Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace.
… or at least, it was supposed to be. The sweeping organizationals changes many of us expected after the end of last season never materialized, but certainly we won’t be fooled again, right? Because this time it’s actually real, right? Putting that differently, The Reckoning II opens tonight. I hope you like sequels.
Now, with that said, I do not intend to use tonight’s game to make grand proclamations about what’s to come. Good or bad, one game at the beginning of the season should not be used as a referendum on the Pace Era. However, we should take it as the latest chapter in a larger body of work. After this season, Pace’s seventh year running the Bears (and his final year under contract), we should have more than enough context to fairly discuss what comes next.
After all, I may have issues … (1) cutting a starting left tackle to replace him with a draft pick with pre-existing injury concerns (who ultimately needed surgery), (2) releasing a Pro Bowl caliber cornerback and replacing him with a free agent corner who didn’t even break camp with the team, and (3) restructuring big-ticket contracts in order to afford bridge deals for players like Andy Dalton … But I’m willing to let the season play out and allow the results to prove me wrong.
And, hey, in fairness, Pace’s résumé has its share of success stories. He successfully cleaned up the mess left behind by Phil Emery, tearing down an old and expensive team while building the 2018 playoff squad. There were also free agent splashes, both big (Allen Robinson II, Danny Trevathan) and small (Akiem Hicks, Prince Amukamara, Cordarrelle Patterson), as well as trades (Khalil Mack) and draft picks (Roquan Smith, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Jackson, Eddie Goldman) to be proud of — many of which still have us looking to the next era of Bears football with hope.
*Looks dreamingly in Justin Fields’ general direction*
But Pace’s book is littered with missteps along the way. And the collection has handcuffed the Bears at times, including this past offseason. Indeed, not all free agent additions have gone as swimmingly as the Robinson and Hicks deals. Mike Glennon, Pernell McPhee, Trey Burton, Dion Sims, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps, Markus Wheaton, and Mike Davis are among those that didn’t work out for one reason or another.
Free agency wasn’t the only minefield. Top-10 first-round picks Mitchell Trubisky, Leonard Floyd, and Kevin White didn’t get second contracts with the team. That Nick Foles trade cost the Bears draft capital and cap space. A double whammy! The Cody Parkey situation – and ensuing kicking carnival – made the Bears a punchline that is still reaping laughs.
And, at the end of the day, the Bears’ current situation mirrors the one Pace inherited back in 2015. Yikes!
This team is old and expensive, with holes at key positions. Fortunately, money is coming off the books at year’s end, and that will position whoever is running the Bears to turn it around and re-tool with Justin Fields under center. Whether that whoever is Ryan Pace will be determined by the results of the season that begins in just a few hours. For better or worse, this is a make or break year for Ryan Pace.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.