INDIANAPOLIS — As he walked down the hallway at the JW Marriott hotel on Wednesday towards a group of waiting media, a lot of different things were going through his head.
But the situations Ryan Pace thinks about here in February of 2019 differ from those 365 days earlier.
Last year Pace had a first and second round pick. This year, he has neither. In fact, Pace has just five selections in the draft with his first pick coming at No. 87. That’s down from No. 7 last season, which included the 8th overall pick that was used on Roquan Smith.
In 2018, the team had wholesale changes to make with a new offense under head coach Matt Nagy. Now Pace is charged with making a few strategic tweaks to the roster to get a competitive Bears team to Super Bowl level. According to Sportrac, the Bears will have around $11.1 million in salary cap space for this free agent period.
That number will increase a bit thanks to Kyle Long agreeing to a restructured deal on Tuesday, but it’s still going to be a challenge for Pace.
“We knew going into this that the cap space was going to be a little bit more limited than it has been in years past,” Pace said. “So obviously we forecasted for that, we planned for that. … But we can still accomplish our offseason and we have a plan in action for that.”
They accomplished a lot last year bringing in players like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton, who made an immediate impact on offense in 2018. The watershed moment came from a trade in which Khalil Mack was acquired from the Raiders for a host of draft picks, which started a breakthrough fall and early winter for the team as they went 12-4 and won the NFC North.
Few would have picked Nagy to be standing at the podium after a season like that a year ago, but there he was, looking ahead to a trickier offseason than the one in 2018.
“It’s different in regards to we don’t have the cap space that we had last time. Everything was happening, there was a lot of guys on this team I didn’t know on this team when I got here,” Nagy said of the difference from 12 months ago during his news conference at the combine in Indianapolis. “Now I know personally the strengths and weaknesses of every single player and every single coach. So Ryan can help me, I can help him, in formulating a way to make the picks that we do have and the money that we do have, make it really count.”
For sure they’ll be getting a kicker since it was confirmed by Pace that Cody Parkey will be released after an inconsistent 2018 season. But other decisions still have to be made, like whether to retain safety Adrian Amos or cornerback Bryce Callahan, or even make a move with running back Jordan Howard.
Even with less money and different circumstances, Pace said that the front office will maintain the same basic principles once the new league year opens on March 13th at 3 p.m. CST.
“We approach it the same way, because we have to be ready for every scenario,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to take place in the draft or in free agency, guys fall to you either way. So our free agent board is set up like our draft board is, and we’ll be mindful of that, and I think you have to be ready for every scenario.”
Like coming out of nowhere to win 12 games, leaving Pace and Nagy with less of a rebuild than they had 12 months ago.
“This is the challenging time right now. This is where you get some depth and you find different areas within your team that really put you over the top,” Nagy said. “We look forward to it. Ryan and I, we’ve started off fast with it, and it’s been a good collaboration.”