2019 Off-Season Proves Pace Is Looking Past the "Four Year Window"
When talking about a team on the rise in the NFL, a popular topic is the four year window. This is mainly due to the fact that teams draft a franchise quarterback and get above average play at a below average cost at the most expensive position. The Bears, Rams, and 2013 Seahawks all spent big money in their second year with a new quarterback to make a push towards a Super Bowl. All three teams used seemingly similar strategies on the surface but differed greatly.
In 2010 the Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, and Kam Chancellor; in 2011 they drafted K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, and Byron Maxwell; in 2012 it was Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, and Russell Wilson. After an 11-5 season and a wild card play-off win in 2012, the Seahawks had an active off-season in 2013, ultimately winning a Super Bowl. In 2013 they added big pieces in free agency including a 6 year $67 million dollar contract to Percy Harvin with $12 million guaranteed. They also signed Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Although the devastating loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl the following year had something to do with the hiccup in Seattle's recent success, it has a stronger correlation with the cap problems they ran into due to drafting so well. In 2015, Seattle started having to pay players and knew they would eventually have to pay Russell Wilson. As the team lost players to free agency, the lack of talent drafted in 2014 and 2015 was evident, with Tyler Lockett being the most notable selection. The Seahawks were awarded 7 compensatory draft picks in 2015 and 2016 for all of the free agents they lost, but also missed on a lot of those picks. Although it looks like Seattle may have rebounded, the drop off after the "window closed" was clear and the jury is still out on weather or not they
have built something long term.
The LA Rams seem to be in an even less optimistic spot. Last year the Rams had to pay Aaron Donald and this year they had to let LaMarcus Joyner walk; both were drafted in 2014. Although the Rams didn't have a 3 year stretch hitting on multiple draft picks like the Seahawks did, they're running into similar cap trouble. In 2017 the Rams most notably added Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, and Nickell Robey Coleman through free agency. The Rams added Ndamukong Suh and traded for Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib in 2018. A majority of these signings worked out for the Rams, but building a team outside of the draft proves to be expensive and forces steep drop offs in talent as the players age and leave. They were awarded 3 compensatory draft picks for the upcoming draft, but I believe the Rams pushed all their chips in last year, came up short, and won't be able to get back to the big game unless they have a 1983 Chicago Bears-esque draft.
As we all know, the Bears cleared their books prior to the 2018 season, and spent most of that money instantly. They used a good portion of the cap building around Mitchell Trubisky, but made their biggest splash a week before the season when signing Kahlil Mack. The 6 year $141 million deal seems to be devastating to the cap for future years, considering the $26 million a year cap hit after this years contract re-structuring. Here are the important things to note about the future of the salary cap: Eddie Jackson, Mitchell Trubisky, and Tarik Cohen's contract all expire in 2021. In 2020 the Bears have outs on Kyle Long and Prince Amukamara's contracts. In 2021 there are outs on Trey Burton, Charles Leno Jr., Taylor Gabriel, and Akiem Hick's contracts. The Bears already have a projected $74 million in 2021, and the salary cap raises every year so they won't have to use many of the outs in order to retain the big three. The players union is expected to strike in 2021 as well, which should cause a significant increase in the salary cap as well.
Money aside, the Bears have drafted extremely well since 2016. In 2015 they had a bad draft by Ryan Pace's standards, but still have a chance to receive compensatory draft picks next year for Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan. They also extended Eddie Goldman prior to the 2018 season concluding the highlights from the 2015 class. 17 of Pace's 21 draft selections since 2016 are on the Bears 53 man roster and 11 of them were consistent starters for the Bears. Pace has been on fire, to say the least, and a conservative off-season shows that he is confident he will consistently provide talent through the draft, even with limited selections. Even if Jordan Howard is traded, the 2019 draft capitol is not looking great. With some magic and next years second round pick, Pace can possibly move into the second round but most likely we will have 5-6 picks all in the third round or later. Having fewer needs over all, one hopes that Pace is able to draft at least one starter in the upcoming draft because we were able to see how a lull in the draft stumped Seattle's Progress.
Kahlil Mack was worth the two first round picks, but the Bears need to have a huge draft in 2020 to ensure they will be built more like the Patriots, Ravens, or Steelers, instead of pushing all in and sacrificing future stability. In 2020 the Chicago Bears could potentially have 8 draft picks (2,2,4,5,6,7, conditional 5, possible compensatory picks), and should feel very confident with two 2nd rounders, considering they took James Daniels and Anthony Miller in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft. Only time will tell.
After five years as the general manager for the Chicago Bears, Pace has stated that the culture that has been established has made Chicago more attractive and helped with "value signings.". He also stated that it's nice to be able to breathe and not be overwhelmed by roster holes to fill. All of the Bears signings were efficient, low-risk, and high-reward. Drafting well has given him the flexibility to have an inexpensive off-season, resetting his books and taking the next step in building a sustainable franchise.