LAKE FOREST – Very few people were surprised by the main thing that happened on January 1, 2018, but there was another move made by the Bears that did catch a few off guard.
Team CEO Ted Phillips announced at the news conference at the firing of John Fox on New Year’s Day that Ryan Pace’s contract would be extended. Some might not have seen that coming, since the Bears had yet to find success under the general manager, and a number of his moves were being questioned.
“When Ryan was hired three years ago, he told us that building a team for sustainable success would not be easy,” said Phillips that day. “But his plan to build principally through the draft to lay the right foundation made sense to us, and it still does.”
A year later, you can bet that Phillips feels the same, along with many, many others that might have been skeptical a year ago.
Pace’s move to hire Matt Nagy as head coach, his free agent acquisitions on offense, along with his moves to build the defense in his tenure paid off big time in his fourth season. The Bears went from 5-11 to 12-4, winning the NFC North and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season. It has the general manager near the top of the candidates for NFL Executive of the Year honors.
So how was Pace able to keep the faith when the team won just 14 games in three years?
“I think just believe in what you’re doing,” said Pace. ” We’re kind of insulated from the outside. So believe in what you’re doing and stay true to your processes and your beliefs. I felt this way the whole way and that’s what’s so great about Matt is to operate with no regrets.”
One big characteristic of the Pace era has been the general manager’s aggressiveness in potentially franchise-altering decisions. He traded away picks to move up one spot in the 2017 draft to select quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, constantly using the word “conviction” in explaining the decision. A week before the start of the season, Pace traded a pair of first round picks to acquire 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack from the Raiders.
The latter move has certainly paid tremendous dividends as the outside linebacker helped to add more pressure from the front seven and transformed the unit, which led the NFL in fewest points allowed and turnovers. While still developing as an NFL quarterback and in Nagy’s system, Trubisky has brought stability to the quarterback position while continuing to show the characteristics of a franchise quarterback.
No doubt there have been misses, even in this season, as evidence with the Cody Parkey signing that included $9 million in guaranteed money. Yet for Pace, it’s all part of his “no regrets” mentality when it comes to building his team.
“So be aggressive at the right times and ever in look back on this opportunity one day and say, oh, man, I wish we would have done that or that. I think we’ve shown that we’ll be aggressive at the right moments and I think that’s why we fit so well together as we go through this.”
So where does Pace go now? Defensively the Bears are set to make a championship run with the offense potentially on the verge of a breakthrough should they take full hold of Nagy’s offense. It’s a different task for the general manager since he won’t need to make wholesale changes like in the past.
“I just think we’re always going to fight complacency and status quo. We’re pushing every single day to improve this team and improve this roster,” said Nagy of his attitude going into the 2019 offseason. “That’s the window we’re in right now. I feel like windows open and close. We’re in a coaching window right now to improve our staff and that’s what’s taking place and then the player acquisition periods are going to open and we’re going to do everything we can to improve our roster and that’s what it’s going to take to get to the next step.”
He’ll do so with the continued support of his bosses and the faith of the fans as well.