As I sat comfortably on my couch watching the Bears’ playoff game slip away to the Saints in the second half, I couldn’t help but wonder what the McCaskeys were thinking at the moment.
Had they already made a decision on the fates of general manager Ryan Pace, head coach Matt Nagy, and as a by-product, quarterback Mitch Trubisky? Were they actually waiting to see how the game transpired before deciding what to do with them?
As the fourth quarter ticked down and the Bears were desperately driving to make the final score (21-9) a little more respectable, I felt fairly convinced that Halas Hall minds had already been made up.
I can’t imagine anyone went into that game with high expectations, especially with key players such as Roquan Smith and Darnell Mooney inactive. Thus, I’m sure nothing that could have transpired in this game would have altered the course of what’s going to come this offseason.
Matt Nagy seems the most likely candidate to stay
If I were a gambling man, I’d say Nagy seems the most likely candidate to return of the three most important football men in the Bears organization.
Nagy is 28-22 with two playoff appearances in his three seasons as Bears head coach. While other coaches have been fired quicker, it is an awfully difficult sell to fire the man two years removed from Coach of the Year.
Yes, an 8-8 regular season record two years in a row portends the Bears are headed in the wrong direction — or no direction at all. But Nagy can only coach the talent he is given, and you’d be hard pressed to make a convincing case that he’s had a playoff-caliber offense.
He has been gifted with a great defense, however. And the defense hasn’t been the same since the 12-4 season in 2018. Has there been a major shift in talent that has led to a backslide from the unit? Or did they benefit from one of the best defensive minds in football in 2018 when Vic Fangio was the defensive coordinator? I tend to think it’s the latter more than the former, which might put Chuck Pagano’s job in jeopardy.
Don’t rejoice just yet: Mitch Trubisky might be back as bridge quarterback
I understand Bears fans’ frustration with Mitch Trubisky. I have it, too. And midway through his third season (in 2019), I all but gave up on him as a “great” quarterback.
Nobody expected greatness in his first season under John Fox. And he showed some flashes in his second year — his first with Nagy — and even was a Pro Bowl alternate. There were some positive signs and some concerning signs, so I wanted to see what he could do in Year 3.
When those warning signs were not alleviated — such as his erratic downfield accuracy and ability to read defenses — that’s when I gave up hope on him being great.
However, just because the Bears didn’t draft a “great” quarterback, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a serviceable one.
I think fixing the quarterback position is the most important priority this offseason. But, I have news for Bears fans who are expecting a quick fix: barring an unforeseen and very unlikely trade for a great quarterback, the position will not be completely fixed this offseason. And that fact alone is disheartening news for a defense that might be past its prime and will lose some key pieces over the next two offseasons.
Bears fans are rooting for “different” this offseason. Many don’t care if the quarterback is any better than Trubisky, they just want a breath of fresh air. There will be a handful of veteran options available, and Cam Newton will be the “sexy” name on everyone’s lips. But the fact remains that if the Bears draft a quarterback, Trubisky just might be the best option to start the season and be the “bridge” quarterback until the rookie is ready.
Ryan Pace’s job might be the one most in jeopardy
I like Ryan Pace on a personal level, and I commend him on the job he did rejuvenating the defense.
Many Bears fans have forgotten just how bad that unit was before Pace took over.
In 2014, the final year of the dreaded Phil Emery-Marc Trestman regime, the Bears defense was 30th overall and 31st in points per game. It was a disaster and an embarrassment to all those Bears fans who pride themselves on a good defense.
In just a few seasons, by the end of John Fox’s tenure as head coach, Pace changed the culture and the makeup of the defense to make it a Top 10 unit. And by the end of Nagy’s first year — Pace’s fourth year in charge — the defense was arguably the best in the NFL.
So, I understand how badly Pace missed on the Trubisky pick. And that sours a lot of Bears fans. But you can’t let it cloud your judgement on Pace’s overall body of work. Pace missed on Trubisky and he hasn’t done enough in six years to make the offense a Top 15 unit. But he did bring in Allen Robinson, drafted Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery and Darnell Mooney. He has had some successes, just not enough.
Of the Big 3, I’d say Pace is most in jeopardy. He’s had his chance to fix the offense, but has not done so in six years. I would not be surprised, nor would I be disappointed, if the Bears’ brass let Pace go and targeted a GM with previous experience who has presided over a good offense.
Bears fans should temper expectations this offseason
I know pitchforks are in hand and torches are being lit and disgruntled Bears fans are eager to storm the bastion that is Halas Hall. But I think everyone needs to calm down at the moment and take inventory.
I don’t blame you for wanting change. Why would you want to keep something going that hasn’t worked? With that said, change for the sake of change isn’t always the best answer.
Right now, I believe it’s about 55-45 that the Bears fire Pace. I don’t have great confidence in one direction over the other, but they’d certainly have just cause to want to make a change.
And if the Bears do relieve Pace of his duties, all bets are off on Nagy and Trubisky. Nagy would likely stay because it would give the new general manager a “free year” to assess the roster and purge any players he doesn’t deem a fit. After that, he could get rid of Nagy and hire his new guy for a fresh start.
If something happens, it would likely be within the week. So, stand by and wait for official word while trying to ignore the rampant speculation that surely will persist.