On this weeks episode of the Second City Sports Podcast, producer extraordinaire DC brought some fire topics to the fold; including which league is easiest to conduct a rebuild in and (what turned out to be the biggest doozy of them all) which front office do you trust the most to accomplish that task.
Now, when I say that DC brought some “fire topics”, I mean it very literally. It sparked a fire in my eyes and in my heart. And by “a fire in my eyes and in my heart”, I mean that the People’s Champ’s ridiculous and continuous rhetoric against the job that Ryan Pace has done since taking over for the dynamically appalling duo of Phil Emery and Marc “selfish and undisciplined” Trestman had me seeing the realest of flames.
Even two days later, I’m still seething.
When it comes to Ryan Pace and his first three years as the Chicago Bears GM, believing that he has done anything short of yeoman’s work is simply a piss poor and lazy take. For a guy that had to completely retool not only a full 52-man roster but every aspect of the Bears football operations and locker room culture, he sure as hell gets a ton of flack.
But before I lay any argument out there in favor of Pace, let me take you all the way back to the end of the Jerry Angelo-era. Back to 2011. Do you all remember why Angelo was ultimately let go by the McCaskey family? It wasn’t because the Bears weren’t winning. It’s because he wasn’t able to fill and supplement the holes around a veteran, Super Bowl contending roster with young, controllable talent from the draft. Angelo stopped being able to scout effectively and/or (probably both) Love Smith stopped being able to develop those picks into NFL caliber pieces. Because of this, Angelo was forced to continuously head straight for the free agency well and pony up big cash for what ultimately turned out to be B and C players. A tactic that never works out well.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the players Angelo tried to fill in around an aging, but still spectacular Super Bowl contending roster:
2007: TE Greg Olsen (hit… for a while), DE Dan Bazuin (bust), RB Garrett Wolfe (LOL), LB Michael Okwo (who?), OG Josh Beekman (nope), DB Kevin Payne (eventually cut), DB Corey Graham (hit for the 5th round), DB Trumaine McBride, OT Aaron Brant
2008: Chris Williams (HE WAS HURT WHEN HE WAS DRAFTED!!!), Matt Forte (major hit), Earl Bennett (probably his best WR, which is saying something), DT Marcus Harrison, DB Craig Steltz (miss you), DB Zack Bowman, TE Kellen Davis (more famous for his ability to trip and fall down more so than his actual play on the field), DE Ervin Baldwin, OG Chester Adams, LB Joey LaRocque, OT Kirk Barton, WR Marcus Monk
2009: DE Jaron Gilbert (the pool boy), WR Juaquin Iglesias, DE/DT Henry Melton (sure), DB D.J. Moore (ok), WR Johnny Knox (head scratching and unrealized potential mixed with horrible luck), LB Marcus Freeman, DB Al Afalava, OG Lance Louis, WR Derek Kinder.
2010: DB Major Wright, DE Corey Wootton, DB Joshua More, QB Dan LeFevour (just so great), OT J’Marcus Webb (the Taco Bell king)
2011: OT Gabe Carimi (Chris Williams 2.0), DT Stephen Paea (How much you bench press, bro?), DB Chris Conte (that red crucifix tattoo was his greatest attribute; oh and he hates Chicago), QB Nathan Enderle (HA!), LB J.T. Thomas
In the five years after the Bears lost the Super Bowl, Angelo drafted two quality NFL talents. TWO. And one of them he traded away before he got canned for a third round pick because Mike Martz couldn’t use him. Yes, I’m still mad over this.
In comes Phil Emery. Out goes Lovie. In comes Trestman. Out goes the defensive veterans that were the glue and leaders of the team. In comes more garbage via the draft; check it:
2012: DE Shea McClellin (we should’ve known right here), WR Alshon Jeffery (hit with Mike Groh as his WR’s coach), S Brandon Hardin (hurt, hurt again and released in 2013), TE Evan Rodriguez (cut in 2013 after two offseason arrests), CB Isaiah Frey, CB Greg McCoy
2013: OL Kyle Long (I so badly want him to be one of the Bears all-time greats), LB Jonathan Bostic (traded in 2015 for an undisclosed draft pick), LB Khaseem Greene, OT Jordan Mills, DE Cornelius Washington, WR Marquess Wilson
2014: CB Kyle Fuller (juries out), DT Ego Ferguson (waived in 2017), DT Will Sutton, RB Ka’deem Carey, QB David Fales, P Pat O’Donnell, OT Charles Leno Jr. (need to still see some things)
How many of those names do you even recognize anymore? In the eight drafts before Ryan Pace took over, the Bears have a total of two players on the books for the 2018-19 season (Long/Leno Jr.) and two more entering free agency (Fuller/O’Donnell). Is that not insane to anyone else? It gets even worse when you go back and take a look at all the players that both Angelo and Emery passed on while bringing in this cohort of — for a lack of a better term — crap.
I’ll save you all that misery.
The fact of the matter is that Ryan Pace bought a disgusting, run down lot that was filled with squatters and mounds of garbage in the middle of a great and ever-expanding neighborhood and after three years, there are some of us that have decided we have the right to be pissed that it isn’t livable yet.
Chip and Joanna Gaines couldn’t have made Solider Field livable any quicker. The job that Pace has done (along with the coach that was assigned to him via Ernie Accorsi) to just get a foundation down is borderline brilliant.
Look, I realize that Pace has missed out on free agents (although it hasn’t been because a lack of effort as we learned recently from A.J. Bouye). Has he had his fair share of misses on the ones he has landed (Eddie Royal, Antrel Rolle, Marcus Cooper, Mike Glennon and Markus Wheaton to name a few). Yes. But have any of those players prevented the Bears from achieving success? Has Pace locked up massive amounts of the team’s cap for years to come in those missteps? Hell no.
That’s what his predecessors did and he’s been diligent in making sure that he doesn’t follow in their footsteps. He knows you don’t win in the NFL by going to the free agency well over and over and over again. He knows you have to scout, draft, develop and sign your own talent to win.
If the Bears were in contention during the last three years — like they were under both Angelo and Emery — I’d agree with all of the Pace detractors. But the only thing the Bears have been in contention for is a Top-5 pick. From the moment Emery was fired, being the Bears GM meant that you were in charge of a complete and utter rebuild. A rebuild that was never about making the playoffs. It was about picking up the pieces left behind from nearly a decade of mismanagement.
“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess … but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”
Now when you look at the current Bears roster, you see guys like Eddie Goldman (fantastic run stopper), Adrian Amos (5th rounder that found his nose for the ball again this year), Leo Floyd, Cody Whitehair (he might be the most dependable lineman on the roster), Jonathan Bullard (who I still hope can put it all together), Jordan Howard (Top-5 running back in all of football?), Mitch Trubisky, Adam Shaheen, Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen.
The jury is still out on a lot of these guys, but I think it’s fair to assume that there are five to six NFL contributors; with one of them playing the most important position in all of sports. That’s more than what we can say for both the back half of Angelo’s tenure and all of Emery’s.
When you throw in the free agents Pace did identify and performed on the field and contributed in changing the culture from the “Don’t Caaaaare” days (guys like Akiem Hicks, Mitch Unrein, Prince Amukamara, Josh Sitton, Bobby Massie, Danny Trevathan, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller, Mark Sanchez and Sam Acho just to name a few), you have to appreciate where the Bears are compared to where they were.
Even if Kevin White remains one of the biggest busts in Bears history and Hroniss Grasu can’t play, Pace has figured out how to put the Bears best foot forward while completely restructuring this entire franchise.
Right now is when the real work begins. Pace has his QB, his hand-picked head coach that is chomping at the bit to finally push the Bears offense into the 21st century and has retained his defensive coordinator that was and will continue to be paramount in regards to player development.
That’s why I refuse to look at every single draft pick and free agent pick up through the false pretense that Pace has messed it up before and he’s probably doing it again. This next chapter is totally different than the last.
Rather, I’ll choose to believe in my young GM that flipped the giant pile of waste left behind by the former tenants into something resembling a real NFL team.