While most Bears fans have come to a consensus that John Fox’s tenure as head coach should and will be coming to an end January 1st, fans have found something new to argue about. The newest point of contention of Bears fans on social media is whether or not Ryan Pace should also be on the hot seat. The argument against Pace is that if Fox is definitely gone after a 12-31 start to his Bears coaching career, then why is the general manager who put together the talent all but guaranteed to remain with the team in 2018? I think the answer to that question lies in how you evaluate Pace after 3 offseasons.
The Bears team Pace inherited actually wasn’t that horribly devoid of talent. Granted, a lot of the talent was on the older side, but the roster featured guys like Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett, Jared Allen, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Jay Cutler. A few of those guys ended the 2014 season on injured reserve, but the aforementioned group includes guys that were recent pro bowlers and a couple future Hall of Famers. Since then, Pace has gutted Phil Emery’s roster in 3 years with just Kyle Long, Zach Miller, Willie Young, Sherrick McManis, Charles Leno, and 3 guys now on the last year of their rookie contracts (Fuller, Jones, O’Donnell) remaining from the end of the 2014 season.
Deservedly or not, Pace has gotten a hard time from fans on his free agent signings. Those signings are as followed:
Patrick Omameh – 1 year, $726,799.
Jarvis Jenkins- 1 year, 825,000.
Eddie Royal- 3 years, $15 Million ($10M guaranteed).
Mitch Unrein- 1 year, $740,000. After 2015, signed a 2-year deal for 2.26Mil.
Pernell McPhee- 5 years, 38.75 Mil.
Tracy Porter- 1 year, $870,000. After 2015, he signed a 3-year, 12Mil deal.
Vladimir Ducasse- 1 year, $825,000.
Will Montgomery- 1 year, $950,000.
Alan Ball- 1 year, 3 Million.
Antrel Rolle- 3 years, 11.25 Million ($5 Mil guaranteed).
Sam Acho- 1 year, 950,000.
Matt Barkley- 1 year, $595,588.
Josh Sitton- 3 years, 21 Million.
Ted Larsen- 1 year, 1.65 Million.
Bobby Massie- 3 years, 18 Million.
Jerrell Freeman- 3 years, 12 Million.
Danny Trevathan- 4 years, 28 Million.
Akiem Hicks- 2 years, 10 Million. Since signed 4-year, 48M contract.
Eric Kush- Waiver claim before 2016 season. Since signed a 2-year, 2.7Mil extension.
Connor Barth- Signed after cuts before 2016 season.
Brian Hoyer- 1-year, 2 Million.
Mike Glennon- 3 years, $45 Million ($18.5M guaranteed).
Mark Sanchez- 1 year, $2 Million.
Benny Cunningham- 1 year, $855,000.
Kendall Wright- 1 year, $2 Million.
Prince Amukamara- 1 year, $7 Million.
Marcus Cooper- 3 years, $16 Million ($6M guaranteed).
Quintin Demps- 3 years, $13.5 Million ($4.5M guaranteed).
John Jenkins- 1 year, $800,000
Tom Compton- 1 year, $1.85 Million
Bradley Sowell- 1 year, $775,000
Dion Sims- 3 years, $18 Million ($6M guaranteed).
Markus Wheaton- 3 years, $11 Million ($6M guaranteed).
Thirty-one free agent signings (not including those signed after camp cuts), 18 of those signed 1-year deals. Of the 13 multi-year deals that Pace gave out, 7 of those included outs after the 1st year (little or no guaranteed money after the initial year of the deal). That leaves SIX true multi-year free agent signings. Those 6 were Eddie Royal, Pernell McPhee, Josh Sitton, Bobby Massie, Jerrell Freeman, and Danny Trevathan. Only 1 of the long-term 6 could be considered a true bust, that being Royal. There have been mixed results from McPhee (injuries) and Freeman (suspensions/injury), but this group of signings has yielded the best offensive lineman, another dependable, but average lineman, and a pair of LBs who have each spent time (albeit mostly separate) alternating as the 2nd best player on the defense to another FA signing, Akiem Hicks.
Hicks, Unrein, Porter, and Kush have all earned multi-year deals after essentially passing 1-year tryouts to earn those deals. In addition, Acho has been brought back on multiple 1-year contracts. Unrein isn’t a star but has been a solid performer over 38 games as a Bear. Porter was cut a year after signing his 3-year extension but was a serviceable starter in Chicago for the most part. Kush and Acho have been key backups, though the former has missed all season with an injury. Hicks is obviously the big “get” for Pace, a middle of the road starter turned All-Pro level, defensive lineman.
As for the others, it’s simply a case of “you get what you pay for”. Of those 18 1-year deal players, 11 of them received less than a million dollars. Another 5 signed for 2 million or less. Outside of Alan Ball and Prince Amukamara, all these players were brought in to compete for a spot and provide veteran depth. These aren’t the deals that make or break a franchise and are necessary evils to filling out an NFL 53-man roster.
But it’s the multi-year deals with the 1st year guarantees that is leaving a lasting bad taste in the mouths of Bears fans. Rolle, Wheaton, Sims, Demps, and Cooper have to be pretty bad misses for the most part. They were guys paid like lower end starters, but none of them have played at a level worthy of starting on the rare occasion that a few of them were even healthy. And of course, the giraffe (err elephant) in the room, that Mike Glennon contract. It is widely considered that Ryan Pace bid against himself and severely overpaid for Glennon. Glennon was supposed to be a bridge to ensure Mitch Trubisky wasn’t rushed into the starting lineup before he was ready. It took about 2 preseason games before calls started for the rookie to overtake a decidedly mediocre Glennon. He managed to make it 4 games as a starter before the team had seen enough.
The important thing to keep in mind when grading Pace’s free agent spending through 3 years is his very own words when he took the GM job. Pace wants to build this team for the long-term through the draft. The above shows that it’s not the guys who Pace has signed that are killing this team. He’s gotten 1 star, a handful of average to above starters, some role players, and a couple bad misses. But none of these guys have a large crippling contract that will hamper the team in the future. I think the frustration with Bears fans comes from the players Pace has NOT gotten. Pace has gone after just a few of the top dollar free agents but has come up empty when the price tag for said players has gone above his comfort zone. So, I think that’s where there is a disconnect when it comes to many fans looking at his offseasons.
While the Bears have failed to win many games, Pace has been able to maintain the team’s payroll flexibility which will be a huge factor to sign players when this team is ready to compete (hopefully 2018) and when the Bears want to offer extensions to their own draft picks. The consistent playoff teams in the league (Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Chiefs, Texans, Falcons, Vikings) all do very little in free agency because they are loaded with homegrown talent propped up by excellent schemes. So the answer to why Pace is not on the hot seat along with the head coach he hired, is because he has shown that he has a long-term plan to build a consistent contender that continually replenishes talent through the draft.