For years, the Chicago Bears tried to purchase championships via free agency. How’d that work out? Anyone with half a brain and a knowledge of football past a Madden game knows that’s not how the NFL works.
Recently, the Bears’ futility on the field has come from those very bad free agency signings. It’s a major reason the Bears finished 5-11 in 2014, and byproduct to the transitionary season of 2015.
But, since the arrival of GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox, we have seen a very real picture of what culture change looks like.
Brandon Marshall was shipped off to New York because of alleged locker room problems with other players, namely Jay Cutler. Bad contracts and players alike were shipped off to other teams because they didn’t fit the new direction of the Bears.
However, eradicating “locker room cancers” and bad players does not make a culture change. Sure, it’s one step of the process. Installing a system that clicks on all cylinders, from the top of the front office to the bottom of the coaching staff, does.
It’s about building trust and having minds that work cohesively towards a single goal.
And it’s about being objective more than anything.
Perhaps nothing was more evident of Pace’s vision than the news that running back Matt Forte would not be negotiated with this offseason.
This new era of Chicago Bears football can only be described as putting an emphasis on quantity and depth rather than the quality of talent. It’s a recipe that some team up in Foxborough, MA uses and has won a few Lombardi Trophies executing along the way.
The Chicago Bears won’t turn into the New England Patriots, but what’s different, or what we expect to turn into results that didn’t in the past, is the manner in which Ryan Pace is running this organization.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) March 14, 2016
He’s fair. And he holds himself, and those around him, accountable.
No more big contracts. Free agency is a period to assess where you are as a team, find affordable talent, and develop it with strong coaching and culture.
To Phil Emery, and even Jerry Angelo, it was a time to flex the muscles and throw cash at anything with a Pro Football Reference page.
With a full offseason in the books and another one that has just begun, Ryan Pace is proving that his reputation precedes him.
He’s winning battles against contending teams to sign young, coveted players and doing so without having to open up the vault for them. I believe that was abundantly clear when he signed DT Akiem Hicks to a two-year deal despite the massive lineman drawing interest from more than ten teams.
DL Akiem Hicks reported cap hits: '16- $4.5M & '17- $5.5M. #Bears
— Aaron Leming (@AaronLemingNFL) March 14, 2016
But most importantly, after all of that, Ryan Pace understands that the free agency period isn’t the end of the offseason. Free agency is the time to set up your roster for the draft and put yourself in a position that you’re drafting NFL-ready players and not hamstringing the organization with four or five raw prospects.
That’s why signing guys like Danny Trevethan, Jerrell Freeman, and re-signing the likes of Zach Miller is so important. Bobby Massie was had for a three-year deal, and it allows John Fox to slide his best offensive lineman (Kyle Long) to his natural, more dominant position, without having to take a shot on yet another rookie.
Ryan Pace doesn’t flex muscles with anyone because he doesn’t have to. In only two years as an NFL GM, he’s proved that he has the moxie and savvy of a 25-year veteran.
And while the Chicago Bears may simply be on the cusp of contention in their own division, it’s as clear as the driven snow that he has completely changed the dumpster fire of a culture that was the Chicago Bears organization.