The Bears extended the contract of GM Ryan Pace through the 2021 season, president Ted Phillips announced Monday, just hours after John Fox was fired following three years and a 14-38 record coinciding with the general manager's arrival.
"When we hired Ryan we saw the key characteristics of successful general managers in him. We feel he has exhibited those traits in his three years as general manager," said Phillips.
"... He’s learned how to be a decisive decision-maker. He has the instincts to see talent. He’s taken calculated risks in the draft and in free agency, while at the same time maintaining an eye on roster flexibility, salary-cap flexibility.
Pace has located building blocks in his first three draft classes, including NT Eddie Goldman, C Cody Whitehair and RB Jordan Howard from 2015-16. This past spring yielded RB Tarik Cohen and S Eddie Jackson, and Pace's bold move up one spot to select Mitch Trubisky No. 2 overall, Pace said, is the primary reason he feels much better about his 5-11 roster now than one year ago, when it was coming off 3-13.
"I feel much better about where we’re at right now than at this time last year and that starts with the quarterback position. We have a 23-year-old quarterback that we feel very good about that we need to build around. We need to build upon that core and fortunately we have the resources to do that.”
Pace has missed on his share of picks — some due to unforeseen injuries, including his first pick, WR Kevin White — and especially in free agency, where QB Mike Glennon likely will wind up collecting $18.5 million for just four starts.
"I think as we continue to build more through the draft, we can continue to be a little more selective in free agency. There have been some hits. We talk about [Danny] Trevathan and [Akiem] Hicks. And there have been some misses too. That’s on me. We need to get better in that area, and we will get better in that area. But primarily our goal, as you know, is build through the draft and develop those players."
McCaskey reiterated the patience he and Phillips are practicing in order for Pace to execute his draft-and-develop philosophy.
"We’ve seen some results in terms of player development and relying primarily on the draft for that development. We just haven’t seen those results on the field in wins and we’re looking forward to that."
Phillips also didn't hide from the fact that an extension for the general manager can go a long way perception-wise in the impending coaching search.
"I think any head coach, you got to have that relationship with the general manager, A., to even want to come into the organization, and to know the organization is behind the general manager is critical," said Phillips.
Also critical is a general manager who doesn't have to look over his shoulder, and prospective coaching interviewees who are encouraged to view the organization's power structure through a stable and long-term lens as Pace tries to lure in top head-coaching candidates.
Regardless of his extension — guaranteeing Pace two additional years — the pressure on him is amplified to get the coaching decision right. If he doesn't, Pace likely won't be around for the entire duration of his contract.
Phillips said Pace made the decision on dismissing Fox and "will be leading the charge" to secure the coach's replacement. But he also said the Bears foster a "collaborative environment" and that he'll accompany his general manager throughout the interview process.
"When you get this job, you know it’s not going to be overnight," Pace said. "We know there is no quick fix. ... Right now, the biggest decision and most critical decision is getting the right head coach. After that it’s going to be using our resources to attack our roster needs with him by my side."