Ryan Pace Still Putting Pressure on Defense to Win

Chicago Bears (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The NFL is currently in the thick of the free-agency period, and the Chicago Bears have made their share of offseason moves. Among the free-agent signings and trades, the Bears have executed moves that are considered both good and bad. Unfortunately, their overall body of work thus far this offseason hasn’t been seen in a good light.

A few days ago, ESPN staff writer Kevin Seifert wrote that Chicago is among some of the losers of the 2020 free-agency period. After looking at what general manager Ryan Pace has done, I’d have to agree.

Last season, the Bears took a huge step backwards when they finished the year with an 8-8 record after winning the NFC North division in 2018. This regression was largely due to an inept offense, which finished 2019 ranking 29th in the league.

So far, Pace’s efforts to remedy this problem hasn’t made much sense. The quarterback play from Mitchell Trubisky has disappointed, and the same can be said about the lack of production from the corps of tight ends.

Trey Burton was hurt virtually all season, and appears to not be worth the four-year $32 million contract he signed in 2018. As for Adam Shaheen, he is on his way to being an official second-round bust (some would say that he already is one).

In search for an upgrade at the tight end position, Pace inked deals with Demetrius Harris and Jimmy Graham. In his six seasons in the NFL, Harris has amassed a total of 754 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. These numbers are far from eye-popping.

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As for Graham, he was once considered one of the best tight ends in the league when he was with the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks. Since then, Graham hasn’t come close to his Pro Bowl production. While playing for the Green Bay Packers, Graham couldn’t put up the big numbers, not even with Aaron Rodgers under center. If Graham can’t get going with arguably the best quarterback in the NFL throwing him the ball, what do you think he’ll do with Trubisky?

Granted, Graham’s 447 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season were more than what all of Chicago’s tight ends combined for in 2019 (416 receiving yards and two touchdowns). However, just like Harris’ career numbers, those stats just don’t stand out.

And to think, Pace rolled the dice with Harris and Graham instead of aggressively pursuing free-agent tight ends such as Austin Hooper and Eric Ebron, or even trying to trade for Hayden Hurst.

However, the thing that landed the Bears on this free-agency losers list was primarily the trade for quarterback Nick Foles. Chicago reeled in Foles from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth-round compensatory draft pick. Foles, a nine-year veteran, is best known for leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory after Carson Wentz went down with an injury during the 2017 season. Foles stepped in to lead the Eagles to the postseason after Wentz was sidelined again in 2018, and beat the Bears in the wildcard round.

Unfortunately, Foles couldn’t find that magic in Jacksonville. In Week 1 of last season, Foles broke his left collar bone and was inactive until Week 11. The MVP of Super Bowl LII made his return to the field, only to be benched permanently for rookie Gardner Minshew II. Foles has proven to be a good backup quarterback, but can he do the same if appointed as the starter for the Bears in 2020?

Obviously, signing a free agent like Philip Rivers or Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t in Pace’s plans. So they opted to trade for Foles instead of someone like Andy Dalton, who has worked with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in Cincinnati. He even passed on Cam Newton, a league MVP in 2015.

Even with these new additions to the offensive side of the ball, Pace has still avoided the most important need of this team: the offensive line. The decision to overlook this position so far has raised the eyebrows of many, including former Chicago Bear Olin Kreutz. Kreutz tweeted his reaction to the Bears’ acquisition of Foles immediately after the trade.

Kreutz does have a valid point. Chicago’s running game, which ranked 27th in the NFL last year, did very little to help the offense. Of course, play calling was a major part in that. However, when running plays were called, not much was produced overall. The main reason for that is the offensive line.

Kyle Long is out of the picture for good, and Rashaad Coward did his best to fill in. Unfortunately, his best wasn’t good enough at right guard. Furthermore, the constant flop-flopping of Cody Whitehair and James Daniels at left guard and center didn’t help the offensive line’s chemistry.

The interior of the offensive front is essential to the Bears’ success in the running game. Even with a subpar line, running back David Montgomery still managed to rush for 889 yards and six touchdowns. If Pace finally gets the sense to address this problem, then Trubisky and/or Foles will have a much-needed complement to the passing game which would improve the offense.

Looking at what Pace has done on both sides of the ball this offseason, it’s safe to say up to this point that he’s expecting the Bears’ defense to carry the team into the postseason in 2020. The acquisitions that were made on offense might be considered as upgrades by some people, but they clearly aren’t what Chicago could’ve had to make fans feel more at ease. However, Pace did make one move that helped the defense out tremendously.

The Bears agreed on a five-year, $70 million deal with defensive end Robert Quinn. The ten-year veteran pass rusher will easily be an upgrade, replacing the departed Leonard Floyd on the edge. Quinn, who had 19 sacks in 2013 to lead the NFL, should be a better complement to five-time Pro Bowler Khalil Mack.

The Bears finished 2019 eighth in total defense, but was tied for 24th in the league in sacks with 32. In 2018, Chicago’s 50 sacks was tied for third in the NFL, and overall they had the third-best defense. Quinn could potentially help put Chicago’s defense back at the top in 2020.

With more free agents still floating out there, and the 2020 NFL Draft still approaching, Pace and the Bears still have time to put the pieces of the puzzle together for this year. Sure, there is truth to the saying that defenses wins championships. However, defenses can’t win those championships alone. Pace needs to get the right personnel in place on offense so that Chicago can at least be in position to contend for the Super Bowl. More importantly, Pace needs to do so in order to keep his job in the Windy City.