Gauging the value of an NFL GM is a tricky exercise. On one hand, it's just an objectively difficult job. The line about how "there aren't even 32 people on the planet that can do it" is mostly hand-waving that provides the league's time-honored nepotism some cover, but the position is a multifaceted one that requires (in theory, at least) a level of expertise not only in football, but in PR and crisis management too. It's all well and good that you fired up Madden ‘20 and traded Mitch Trubisky for Jimmy Garoppolo straight up, but that's like saying you could average 10 and 5 for the Bulls because you're the best drunk pop-a-shot player of your friends.
On the other hand, to shamelessly borrow from Bill Parcels, you are what your record says you are. At a certain point -- and let's call it five seasons for absolutely no reason that definitely won't come up later -- your overall record is worth taking seriously. The bill eventually shows up at everyone's table, even the ones that have been serving beer and wings with Dan Snyder for 10 years.
This brings us to Ryan Pace, who just wrapped up his 5th season as the Bears' GM. Does the success of a GM matter more after five years than four? Or six? Nope! Probably not. But half a decade is a nice, clean number to digest, and considering this Bears' championship window is starting to feel more a small prison cell slot than a spacy Bay overlooking Lake Michigan, now's as good a time as any to audit Pace.
THE WORST OF THE WORST
Honestly, take your pick. His first coaching hire, John Fox, was coming off four straight AFC titles and a 46-18 record with Denver. Perhaps it was an arranged marriage, but Fox still came to Chicago, signed a four-year deal, and proceeded to coach the Bears to three straight last-place finishes before being fired with one year left on his contract; he hasn't coached since, but he landed on his feet throwing potshots at the Bears from an ESPN2 studio in the middle of the afternoon. On the roster side of things, 2015 included taking WR Kevin White with the 7th overall pick, who's also no longer in the league. Pace's big free agent land that year was Pernell McPhee, who only started 17 games over three years. Antrel Rolle (2015) also didn't pan out, nor did Eddie Royal (2015) or Dion Simms (2017), to name a few.
Since then, Pace's most egregious mistakes have been directly tied to the most important position in sports, no big deal. Mike Glennon got $45 million for three years back in 2017, and then was benched after four games and cut after 16. Not sure if you remember, but Pace also traded up for the second overall pick in the 2017 draft. At the risk of purposefully underselling that point, I'll just say that Trubisky's production has lagged behind other quarterbacks in that draft.
Hiring Matt Nagy looked to be a good move, and might still prove to be. Still, the Bears have finished with poor offensive stats in both of Nagy's two seasons in Chicago, and after their latest 8-8 debacle, Pace's record with the Bears now sits 12 games under .500 (34-46). Not great!
THE BEST OF THE BEST
The least-wordy way to point out how good Pace has been at building a talented roster is by simply listing the moves he made, so I'm just going to do that:
2015's notable draftees: Eddie Goldman (39), Adrian Amos (142)
2016's notable draftees: Leonard Floyd (9), Cody Whitehair (56), Nick Kwiatkoski (113) Deon Bush (124), Jordan Howard (150), DeAndre Houston-Carson (185)
2017's notable draftees: Eddie Jackson (112), Tarik Cohen (119)
2018's notable draftees: Roquan Smith (8), James Daniels (39), Anthony Miller (51), Joel Iyiegbuniwe (115), Bilal Nichols (145), Javon Wims (224)
Friends, you're not going to want to hear this, but Pace is sort of on a draft heater. There is a LOT of NFL talent in those picks, and Goldman, Amos, Floyd (kind of), Whitehair, and Jackson have already signed big-money extensions. Raises are probably coming for Smith, Cohen, Daniels, Miller, and Kwiatkoski as well. None of this even accounts for bringing in Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, and Khalil Mack. The Bears have been able to finish at or above .500 in both of the years that Mitch Trubisky has been the starter, which is a testament to how well the team is built from top to bottom.
This doesn't begin to cover all the good (Allen Robinson! Vic Fangio!) or bad (Adam Shaheen! The end-of-season press conference!) that has Pace's fingerprints on it, because again, being an NFL GM is a lot of work. Five years into his tenure, it's probably fair to say that Pace is a good GM -- many, many NFL teams have far less of a foundation in place. Building an NFL team goes way beyond finding a quarterback, and Pace has shown that he not only understands that, but is good at it. The sad irony, of course, is that for as big as NFL rosters are, no other sport has such a direct correlation between the success of the team and the success of one specific position. Ryan Pace is a good GM, but the jury's still out on him as an evaluator of quarterbacks - and when that's the only real path to sustained success, the fate of even the most multifaceted job is decided through binary results.
Where does Ryan Pace have the Bears after half a decade at the helm? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago