It started with a dinner.
Dan Wiederer told the tale.
Ryan Pace had a “covert” dinner with Mitch Trubisky at a steakhouse in Chapel Hill. The reservation, made by Mitch, was under the name Jim McMahon. History! Trubisky drove a Datsun or Pinto or something. Humility! The Bears decided this was their quarterback of the future because he seemed to check all the intangible boxes found on a form Pace stole from a locked drawer in Sean Payton’s desk.
It didn’t work. And the scrutiny started quickly. What didn’t Pace like about Patrick Mahomes? Why didn’t he meet with Deshaun Watson? What about Trubisky was SO impressive – it certainly wasn’t his collegiate production – that it led the Bears GM to throw horse blinders on and ignore everybody else?
The Pace tenure had become defined by those months leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft and the production of the men he decided not to take. Sure, he whiffed on Kevin White, reached (ridiculously) for Adam Shaheen and tossed some money away on Robert Quinn. But every GM misses on picks and spends money ineffectively in free agency. Trubisky was the story. And that mistake, compounded by Pace’s inability to correct it (an improbable task, to be fair) was the entire narrative. Every positive move, including rebuilding the worst defense in Chicago Bears history, was shuffled into the shadows.
Come the end of the 2020 season, the expectations were that Pace would be GM no longer. The Bears were coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons, with a flop quarterback and an aging defense. Change felt inevitable, whether that be the coach, the GM or long-time team president Ted Phillips. GMs don’t get second chances to find franchise quarterbacks. Owners, especially in this modern, last-place-to-first-place-yearly NFL, are not patient individuals. It’s been well-discussed how much George McCaskey likes Pace but an owner’s love plus $5.99 will get you a double cheese at the Billy Goat.
They stood pat. They delivered an awkward press conference, preached collaboration, and maintained an organizational status quo. McCaskey and Phillips trusted their instincts, leaning on their belief that Pace – still only 44 years old – was not a completed picture. In any line of work, one usually improves with time and experience and the Bears believed the same would be true for Pace. It was not a decision met favorably by those who cover and cheer for the Chicago Bears. Many claimed it was the Bears acting like 8-8 was perfectly acceptable. But anyone listening to that presser heard a distinct refrain: it was about the quarterback. Pace was admitting his Trubisky failure and vowing to make amends THIS offseason.
As the draft closed in, that vow seemed like horseshit.
Overtures to Houston for Deshaun Watson fell on deaf ears. (Imagine the PR nightmare that would have ensued if that trade had happened.) A blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson collapsed after Pete Carroll nixed it in the waning hours. And with the 20th pick in the draft, Pace seemed 3,000 miles away from being able to acquire one of the available star quarterbacks. Focus had already shifted from the likes of Lance and Fields to the second-tier fellas like Mond and Trask and Mills. These are the prospect equivalent of banging your cue ball at a pile of solids on the rail and hoping one or two finds their way into a pocket. Sure, it might happen, but it’s certainly not a winning strategy.
Selecting an elite QB prospect seemed so far-fetched that those of us creating content around this franchise all-but-ignored the top four quarterbacks entirely. It seemed inconceivable – with quarterbacks guaranteed to go in the first three picks – that a fourth could survive the Carolina/Denver gamut at 8-9. And the move from 20 to single digits just seemed too costly for the Bears to even consider.
“With the 8th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina.”
One bullet dodged. Denver next. And here is truly where Chicago’s fortunes changed. Earlier in the day, Aaron Rodgers had leaked to Adam Schefter that he no longer wanted to play for the Green Bay Packers and it seemed Denver was a desirable destination for him; with the likes of Mark Schlereth reporting the deal was actually imminent. If Denver believed Rodgers was a possibility for them, would they still consider a quarterback in this spot?
“With the 9th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama.”
Go get Fields or Jones!!!
— Silvy (@WaddleandSilvy) April 30, 2021
The Coors Banquets I was drinking Thursday night started going down far more rapidly as the tension grew.
It was now possible.
Fields was now possible.
But would the Bears make the move? As the Cowboys, Giants and Eagle did their elaborate DeVonta Smith mambo, the Bears saw their opportunity to pounce.
The Giants logo on the draft ticker was gone.
The Bears logo replaced it.
And it all changed.
In a moment.
A jilted fan base found love again.
A formerly-despondent Marc Silverman found hope.
This wasn’t about shitty cars and dinner reservations. This was about a big time football player, at a big time program, producing big time results. This was about the Bears fielding (so to speak) a superior athlete at the quarterback position for what is truly the first time in their thousand-year history.
And now the clock restarts. Pace has his second quarterback and the opportunity to be redefined by the bold decision to move up and acquire Justin Fields.
But more importantly, Pace did what was seemingly impossible. He breathed new life into a dying franchise; a franchise worn down by inescapably poor quarterback play. He turned the torch-wielding social media mob around and sent them back to the tavern for a celebratory cask of ale. He gave himself one more opportunity to fulfill the promise of his hire and bring modern, offensive football to the Chicago Bears.
And he did it all in one night. One remarkable night. He reversed his fortunes, and perhaps the positional fortunes of a franchise that has suffered the indignity of never having a star quarterback for the city to rally behind. One with a big personality, a big heart and an even BIGGER arm.
The Bears have never had a Justin Fields.
They do now. And with him comes hope that the organization’s definitive question will finally be answered.
The Bears have Justin Fields. Because of Ryan Pace.