Ryan Pace, Overhaul Expert(Breaking Bad Timeline)
It's funny to think that a couple of years ago the Chicago media had their hand hovering over Pace's hot seat lever, ready to ring the alarm. I understand that it wasn't always pretty. It was almost like the show Breaking Bad. A large portion of the first season moved slowly to lay the foundational elements of the story. I will admit it took me a few try's to get through the first episode. I even fell asleep trying to watch it, but eventually, I got through that first season. It was well worth it, after the first season, every episode seemed to push it to the next level. I'd finish an episode thinking, "there's no way it could get any crazier than that," and it would. It caused a next-level Netflix binge resulting in calling off of work for a day, followed by a day of missing classes. I watched 5 seasons in 2 days and ate 4 Italian Italian beef sandwiches in less than 48 hrs. It still goes down as one of the best decisions I've made in my life, but I digress.
As I stated, Ryan Pace's rebuild is comparable to the pacing of the show Breaking Bad. His first offseasons in Chicago started slow, as the first season of the show did. Pace cleared the books and got rid of older costly veterans and replaced them with younger less expensive players. The roster had holes everywhere, and the Bears consistently attempted to fill them; if you examine his body of work, Pace started in the trenches and moved backward. Ryan Pace used 2015 as an evaluation year. Charles Leno and Kyle Long got accepted into the new Bears regime, and Eddie Goldman was a 2015 draft selection. In 2016 the Bears signed Bobbie Massie and Akiem Hicks through free agency, also adding Cody Whitehair through the draft. 6 of 8 current Bears starting lineman we on the 2016 roster. It was a deliberate strategy by Pace to dramatically improve the offensive line before investing in a quarterback, and he was on a timer with the out in Cutler's contract coming up.
On our Breaking Bad timeline, it's the end of season one. Walter and Jessie are in the junkyard with Tuco and don't have enough product to fill their first big order.
As we all know, 2017 brought Mitchell Trubisky, but it also showed more of Pace's style as a GM. Solidifying the lines first gave Pace the security and flexibility to start overhauling position groups in their entirety. Pace started with the quarterback room. The Bears signed Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez, before drafting Mitchell Trubisky. No one will ever claim Glennon was a good signing, the man's play was dreadful, but it did ensure that Jay Cutler would never mentor Mitchell Trubisky. He also targeted the defensive backfield. In free agency, he signed (SS) Quintin Demps, (CB) Marcus Cooper, and (CB) Prince Amukamara. Through the 2017 draft, the Bears also acquired all-pro Eddie Jackson. At the time it didn't seem like the Cooper or Demps signings would lead to a quick turnover, but Pace added completion to the room. Through it, the staples in Bears defensive backfield emerged. The Bears Challenged Fuller in a contract year and his play rose to an all-pro level, and the rest is history. The unit's production eventually leads to the departures of Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan, but like the Bears lineman, the core is still intact. Pace is hoping he can plug a few holes this year to hold him over until next year, where he can add another slew of DB's to the stable.
In 2018 Matt Nagy was hired. At this point in the Breaking Bad timeline, Walter White went full Heisenberg, watching Jane choke on her own vomit while overdosing, with zero remorse.
The offensive line, quarterback, new head coach, and new offensive system were all in place at the start of the 2018 offseason. It was time to go get some weapons. It was also time to introduce Pace's guerrilla warfare strategy in free agency. He entered the 2018 free agency acquiring the top wide receiver of the class, Allen Robinson. He also signed Taylor Gabriel, adding speed to an offense that desperately needs it to function. The Bears traded up, into the second round, to draft Anthony Miller than selected Javon Wims later in the draft. Trey Burton was also acquired through free agency to play the U tight end position, adding another weapon for Trubisky. The wide receivers were the weakest group for the Bears in 2017. By 2018 the Bears had enough depth to let Alan Robinson rest an extra game after suffering a hip injury. Also, free agent quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray were signed, overhauling the room. The Bears offense got upgraded; like Jessie and Walter's lab when they teamed up with Gustavo and moved production to the dry cleaners.
In 2018 Pace realized the Bears needed pass rushers. Pace signed Aaron Lynch in an attempt to fill the void at edge rusher. The Bears also drafted Kylie Fitts, but he's a project. Leonard Floyd was a questionable number 1 edge rusher, and Lynch was a complete question mark. Lynch worked with Fangio in the past, but his play was in decline and is seen as someone with character issues. It was the weakest looking position going into the year and then BOOM, Pace traded for Kahlil Mack. This trade was as monumental as the scene in "Breaking Bad" where Gustavo slices Victor's throat with a boxcutter and pulls his head back, stretching and ripping the wound further. The Bears added a generational talent in Mack causing a domino effect. Floyd became the number 2, and Lynch became a rotational player. One of the worst pass rush groups in the NFL became one of the best, overnight.
The trades for Mack and Miller left Pace with his back against the wall in 2019. Not only was cap space limited, but there were also no first or second-round draft picks. Pace stated that there were no overwhelming needs in his pre-draft pressers, but there were a few identifiable positions in need of an upgrade. Kicker, running back, and kick returner were all identified as areas of concern. I say that in past tense with confidence.
There are 5 kickers on the Bears roster currently. All kickers have little to no NFL experience, but the Bears are hoping to find a diamond in the rough. It doesn't sound like a great strategy, but 11 of the top 15 kickers in 2018 were undrafted free agents. The Bears scouts have left no stone unturned in their quest to find a kicker. Through the combine, and private workouts the Bears have looked at over 20 kickers this offseason narrowing it down to five. They won't be able to take all of them into training camp, but right now it's a kicking gauntlet. Eventually, two candidates will emerge and compete through training camp, and one will become the starter. The overkill of competition leaves me hopeful that the Bears kicking woes will no longer exist. The Bears also overhauled the running back spot. Jordan Howard got traded, and Benny Cunningham was released. Enter Mike Davis and David Montgomery. I won't gush too much about Montgomery. The one thing I will say; there is no reason he should have fallen into the third round. Kerrith Whyte, the sixth-round draft pick, backed up Devin Singletary at Florida Atlantic. He produced in college as a backup but was also phenomenal as a kick returner. This leads to the final positional overhaul in 2019, kick returners. The Bears signed free agents Coardarrelle Patterson and Marvin Hall as kick returners in the offseason. Duke Shelly, a 4-year kick returner at Kansas State, was also acquired by the Bears in the draft. The Bears had three areas to address in the 2019 offseason, and Pace covered them all. 5 kickers, 3 running backs, and 4 kick returners have been added to the Bears roster in the 2019 offseason.
As the years have progressed, it is easier to give Ryan Pace a profile as a General Manager. He came to Chicago with a 5-year plan to completely turn over the roster. It started slow, assembling the offensive and defensive lines. Pace followed his word taking the best player available and random holes were slowly being filled. As the roster became stronger and the quarterback was in place, positional needs became apparent. Ryan Pace adds a plethora of talent to that positional group to add competition. He isn't biased to players he drafted or signed when evaluating the competition, but most traces of the Phil Emery regime are gone. The best player available is drafted, and this was most shown by the Riley Ridley pick. The wide receiver room was already crowded, but Ridley should not have been available at the end of the fourth round. Pace had to select him. Sometimes the best player available matches a positional need, like with Montgomery this year. The Chicago Bears roster overhaul had the same pacing of the show Breaking Bad. Let's hope the Bears 2019 highlight video ends with the camera panning in on Ryan Pace's handprint on the Lombardi trophy.