Ray McDonald: Ryan Pace’s First Big Mistake as Chicago Bears GM


Oct 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald (91) during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi

You can imagine my surprise when I was at a family Memorial Day celebration when I got word that Ray McDonald had been arrested on yet another domestic violence charge:

Not Ray?!?!  Not after he bought his own plane ticket to plead his case to Bears management?!?!? Not after George McCaskey met with him?!?!  Not after his own parents vouched for him?!?!?  How could this be?  I don’t know the specifics of the latest charge, but I know this much: this reflects worse on Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears organization than it does on McDonald.

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We already had a pretty good idea about what McDonald was when the Bears inked him to a free agent contract back in March.  I mean, the San Francisco 49ers had seen enough when they cut him last December after repeated off-field incidents during the 2014 campaign.

After the initial wave of free agency, Ryan Pace approached Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey about signing McDonald on the recommendation of former 49ers and now Bears DC Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell. McCaskey initially denied the request, but double backed on his position after meeting McDonald and even speaking to his parents (but not the accuser because she might have been ‘biased’) and gave his stamp of approval on the move:

"“I told him that my assessment was ‘bad decision-making,’ allowing himself to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not withdrawing from a situation at the appropriate time,” McCaskey said. “And I told him, if he’s to remain a Bear, that needs to improve. And he pledged to me that it would.”"

So much for pledges, I suppose.  With this latest arrest, McDonald loses any benefit of the doubt and proves that where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.  McDonald barely made it through two months in a Bears uniform before his latest incident that led to a Memorial Day arrest at the home former 49ers teammate Justin Smith.

The Bears made quick work of McDonald, cutting him two months and a day after signing him:

"“We believe in second chances, but when we signed Ray we were very clear what our expectations were if he was to remain a Bear,” General Manager Ryan Pace said.  “He was not able to meet the standard and the decision was made to release him.”"

The move was low risk for the Bears from a financial standpoint but has been very costly from a PR standpoint.  Domestic violence is deplorable in any circumstance, but it’s under the microscope in the NFL since a couple of very high profile cases last season.  USA Today’s Nancy Armour has a suggestion for how the league ought to handle this latest incident:

"Ray McDonald isn’t the only one who needs to pay a price for his latest domestic abuse arrest.NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ought to slap the Chicago Bears with a hefty fine and dock them a draft pick or two. Suspend general manager Ryan Pace for four games. Ban owner George McCaskeyfrom the stadium for the first half of the season while he’s at it, too, since it was McCaskey’s enlightened decision to blow off the alleged victim when he gave the OK to sign McDonald.It’s not enough to simply punish the players who inflict the abuse on women and children. If the NFL wants the good work it’s done over the last year to combat domestic violence to actually mean something, it has to go after the owners and GMs who have long enabled them."

I think Armour is a bit over the top with her proposal, but the spirit of her idea makes sense.  Make teams accountable for their decisions to sign these guys.  Stop being enablers.  Maybe George McCaskey would think twice about signing off on these moves if it cost him a hefty fine.  Maybe Ryan Pace thinks twice about signing a guy who was cut by another team for repeated run-ins with the law if he knew it might cost him a draft pick.

I don’t know whether the Kevin White selection will pan out or if Pernell McPhee can handle his expanded role after signing a free agent deal.  Even if both are flops – heck, even if all of the draft picks and free agents are busts – the Ray McDonald signing will go down as Ryan Pace’s first major mistake with the Chicago Bears.  Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell should get some heat for backing McDonald.  George McCaskey will get a fair bit of heat too for signing off on the move.  But at the end of the day, this one falls on Ryan Pace.  As a new GM, we’ll chalk it up as a rookie mistake, but it’s a biggie.