Hoge: Like Trubisky Or Not, Ryan Pace Pulled Off A Successful, Covert Draft Operation

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Bears GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

There was one development over the last few months that kept standing out to me as extremely suspicious: the Bears didn’t seem to be showing any serious interest in North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

As I watched more and more tape throughout the pre-draft process and did my research on the quarterbacks, Trubisky kept solidifying himself to me as the draft’s No. 1 quarterback. And yet, the Bears — who were clearly doing their homework on all the top quarterbacks — seemed to “publicly” favor DeShaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Deshone Kizer over Trubisky. For Trubisky, there was no Halas Hall visit. There was no pre-draft workout. And only one high-ranking Bears official was seen at North Carolina’s pro day. The Bears had an obvious meeting with the quarterback at the NFL Combine. That was it.

As someone who has come to respect Pace’s scouting eye over the last three NFL Drafts, I found this very odd. It’s one thing for Pace to favor another quarterback over Trubisky, but to not even give the guy a sniff seemed unfathomable to me.

On the flip side — and I said this publicly many times — I thought the Watson love was too obvious. Pace and John Fox have established the Bears as one of the more secretive organizations in the NFL over the last two years. For them to roll up to Clemson’s Pro Day in an Escalade and have the entire braintrust get out of the car just didn’t add up to me. The Pro Days are the most public pre-draft events and Clemson’s was the most anticipated of the season.

It was all suspicious enough that on our “Quarterback Preview Episode” of Hoge & Jahns, I finally threw it out there: “I kind of wonder if Trubisky might actually be the guy.”

To be clear, it was a guess. In fact, it felt like a conspiracy theory coming out of my mouth. And in the end, I went as hard as anyone saying that 1) I didn’t think the Bears would take a quarterback and 2) I didn’t think they should at No. 3 overall.

Give Pace credit. He had us all duped. It was a long, thought-out heist. And it worked.

Go back to the fall when Pace covertly saw Trubisky “multiple times” in person.

“A lot of times just sitting in the stands with a disguise on,” Pace joked, maybe.

He attended the Sun Bowl, in which Trubisky led an impressive comeback, only to fall short when his offensive line didn’t block Stanford’s Solomon Thomas on what could have been a game-tying two-point conversion. For me, that was the tape that solidified Trubisky as a guy who wasn’t ready to play as a rookie, but also a guy who could become a tremendous NFL quarterback if developed properly.

It turns out, Pace agrees.

And, as it also turns out, the Bears did hold a private workout with Trubisky. Pace, Fox, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone and director of player personnel Josh Lucas all attended the workout and had dinner with Trubisky the night before.

And none of them said a thing. Including Trubisky. He was in the on the heist, even if he didn’t know it.

At North Carolina’s Pro Day, Bears director of college scouting Mark Sadowski was spotted, but none of the other big dogs were seen at the very public event. And, according to reports from the Pro Day, Trubisky mentioned visits and/or workouts with the Browns, Chiefs, 49ers, Jets, and Cardinals, but not the Bears. As it turned out, my podcast partner, Adam Jahns, reported Friday morning that the Browns, Chiefs, Cardinals and Texans all “aggressively attempted” to trade up in Thursday’s first round. The Browns and Chiefs were especially interested in Trubisky, Jahns reported, which could be why Pace felt the need to move up to No. 2 to secure his guy.

Given all the scouting and all the secrecy to get within one pick of securing “his guy,” you can understand why Pace moved up to No. 2. In the end, the Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes) and the Texans (DeShaun Watson) both gave up a lot more to grab their quarterbacks.

Pace got his guy. It was Mitch Trubisky. And no one saw it coming.

The Trade

The most common sticking point with fans seems to be that Pace traded up to No. 2. For some reason, many are convinced Trubisky would have been available at No. 3. Considering an NFL GM wasn’t convinced, I’m not sure how random fans know this to be a fact.

The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Friday that the 49ers had another offer for the No. 2 pick.

What is still unknown is whether or not that mystery team was going to take Trubisky. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. If Pace knew another team was trying to trade up to No. 2, it is completely fair for him to believe that team was going to take Trubisky. If he is 100 percent convinced Trubisky can lead the Bears to a Super Bowl, then you make the trade in that situation. I can’t fault the logic.

But forget that. Let’s consider what the Bears actually gave up: the No. 3 pick, the No. 67 pick, the No. 111 pick and a 2018 third-rounder. Using the traditional draft pick value chart, this trade comes out virtually even because future picks are valued less.

Furthermore, if you think Pace panicked at the last minute and made this move, you are wrong. 49ers GM John Lynch revealed in a radio interview Thursday night that the deal “gathered steam” on Wednesday before being finalized Thursday.

In the end, if Trubisky is good, no one will miss the three draft picks. And let’s not forget that Pace also traded up in the first round last year. He correctly identified that the Giants were going to draft Leonard Floyd at No. 10, so he jumped from No. 11 to No. 9 to get his guy. When it was all said and done, Pace entered the 2016 draft with nine picks, and when the weekend was over, he still made nine picks.

Let’s see how the rest of this weekend plays out.

Don’t Forget About Aaron Donald

What about Mike Glennon?

The one guy I have some sympathy for in this situation is Mike Glennon. The NFL can be a brutal business and he’s learning that the hard way… again. It’s one thing when there’s a regime change and you lose your job to the No. 1 overall pick, but then to finally hit free agency and be deemed the clear-cut starter with the Bears only to see them turn around and draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick? That has to be tough.

On the flip side, Glennon still has a chance to prove himself as the worthy starter and he’ll still go home with at least $18.5 million guaranteed no matter what.

And I can’t really fault the business side of it for the Bears. The No. 1 priority has to be quarterback and the Bears now have two viable options for the future, with the chance to trade one of them if they both work out.

With the No. 36 overall pick, the Bears select…

There are still two names from my Bears Big Board available. One is East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones and other is Washington cornerback Kevin King. Both would be fine picks at No. 36. I also wouldn’t rule out the Bears addressing the offensive line as Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson is still available, as is Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp, who could be too good to pass up. If the Bears opt for a safety, Texas A&M’s Justin Evans is a favorite of mine and the high potential of UConn’s Obi Melifonwu can’t be ignored.

The Reaction

True story: About an hour before the draft started, I had a conversation with WGN Radio’s Justin Kaufmann about the Bears selecting Trubisky. We were on the radio together when it actually happened and this is what it sounded like: