ATM: Before Worrying About the 2021 Bears, Maybe Let’s See How 2020 Plays Out

| July 29th, 2020

The voices clamoring to replace Ryan Pace have grown louder this off-season, but the simple truth is this: we have to see what 2020 brings before making any determination on whether or not the GM should be employed beyond this season. Some of Pace’s recent moves haven’t been popular and some of his past moves simply haven’t worked out. But the criticism of the Bears has gotten out of control, especially considering they are coming off their best two-year stretch since Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were in their primes.

Like pretty much every Bears GM since the beginning of time, Pace missed at quarterback. Those who believe Pace should be fired for drafting Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes won’t be dissuaded. It is harsh but not entirely unfair.

Where the anti-Pace argument gets out of control is when he gets criticized for what most would consider good moves. Roquan Smith is a very good linebacker. Drafting him ninth wasn’t a bad move. Pace deserves credit for pulling the trigger on the Khalil Mack trade and for building one of the elite defenses in the league. (Especially considering he inherited the worst defense in franchise history.) While drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round was bad, getting something for a player who had no shot to make the roster was a good move.

Pace has found good players late in the draft and as bargains in free agency.  He has made many good moves, enough that the team has won 20 games the past two seasons and has a roster that should contend for a division title in 2020.

His misses are bad. Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky, pretty much any tight end he acquired, Quintin Demps and of course, Cody %@#$ing Parkey. But every GM has hits and misses. What matters the most is if the team wins games. There’s little question that Pace had a learning curve as the youngest GM in the league when he was hired, but his plan seems to be much more refined now. In two years with the coach he had absolute authority in choosing, the Bears have won 20 games, only seven other teams have won more — none in the NFC North.

A panic ensued last week when it was reported that the 2021 salary cap will be at least $175 million. It was quickly apparent that the words “at least” needed to be defined for some people, but also that the Bears aren’t as bad off as several other teams. The Bears have the ninth-least amount of salary cap space in 2021, with at least one significant free agent — Allen Robinson. The Bears also have a number of moves they’ve already planned — especially at tight end and in the secondary — that will free space.

Just ahead of the Bears in terms of cap space is Green Bay, with two significant upcoming free agents — Kenny Clark and Aaron Jones. Minnesota, which has Dalvin Cook and Anthony Harris set to expire, is behind the Bears.

The salary cap is often an imaginary number. Teams always find ways to create space. While a lower or flat cap in 2021 will be bad for pretty much every team in the league, the smart GMs will find a way to push money down the road as the cap is expected to explode when new TV money kicks in.

What really needs to be understood is that team building is an ongoing process and we have to see how it plays out.

Maybe Nick Foles isn’t a franchise quarterback and the other teams who gave up on him were right. Then again, maybe he’ll be to the Bears what Kurt Warner was to the Cardinals.

The Bears have some potential future issues with aging players, but they also have young players who just might slide in. While he hasn’t had many high picks in the last two drafts, Pace has proven to be adept at finding talent lower in the draft and in free agency after the draft is over.

Perhaps Riley Ridley makes it so Robinson is more expendable? Maybe Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley allow the team to revamp its secondary? Maybe Alex Bars, Arlington Hambright or Lachavious Simmons prove to be studs along the offensive line? Maybe, just maybe, we should worry about the 2021 Bears after the 2020 season?

Pace should absolutely be on the hot seat entering 2020. He built a team that is supposed to win this season and failing to make the playoffs — especially with an expanded playoff format — would be impossible to explain to George McCaskey. But that hasn’t happened yet and there’s no real reason to expect that to happen.