LAKE FOREST, Ill. — April 27, 2017.
It will always be a significant date in Chicago Bears history.
That was the night general manager Ryan Pace stunned Chicago — and the National Football League — by trading up one spot in the NFL Draft to secure the rights to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick.
Pace gave the San Francisco 49ers a third and a fourth round pick in the 2017 draft and another third round pick in the 2018 draft to move up one spot. He was crushed by draft pundits everywhere.
“Why did Pace trade an entire draft to get a player he could have had if he stayed put?!?”
Yes, I’m still asked this illogical question. Almost every week.
It’s been almost 20 months since that draft night trade went down between Pace and 49ers general manager John Lynch. And with the Bears traveling to San Francisco this weekend to play the 49ers, it seems like a good time to revisit the trade in this week’s 10 Bears Things.
1. A ‘Fleecing’ That Never Really Happened
“(Ryan Pace) just got fired with this draft.”
That’s what the infamous tweet from NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller said on Sunday, April 30, 2017.
Meanwhile, Pace was sitting in his office at Halas Hall thrilled with his draft haul. He only ended up with five players, but he loved them all. That Saturday night, the Bears held a post-draft party and everyone — including John Fox — was celebrating.
Yet 20 months later, there are still fans upset that Pace traded three middle-round draft picks. There are still people who believe Lynch — going through his first ever NFL Draft — “fleeced” Pace in the trade.
That premise was always flawed and I wrote as much after talking to numerous sources in the immediate aftermath of the trade.
To start, trading two third round picks and a fourth round pick to secure what you believe is the solution at the most important position in sports is no-brainer. You do it every time.
In hindsight, you could argue that Pace traded up for the wrong quarterback. That’s a different conversation. Pace didn’t have the benefit of hindsight that night. He was operating off the following information:
— Trubisky was not just Pace’s No. 1 quarterback. He was also the No. 1 quarterback for director of player personnel Josh Lucas, director of college scouting Mark Sadowski, national scout Ryan Kessenich, area scout Chris Prescott and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. There was an overwhelming consensus in the scouting department that Trubisky was their guy.
— Holding the No. 3 pick, Pace knew the 49ers were highly motivated to move out of the No. 2 spot and acquire more picks. The Bears were not the only team the 49ers were talking to. He had to consider the very real possibility that another team could leapfrog the Bears, and if that team also coveted Trubisky, their consensus No. 1 option could be gone.
— Pace knew other teams had Trubisky at the top of their draft board. What those teams didn’t know is that Pace had Trubisky at the top of his draft board. This is something that he still does not get enough credit for. Had the Bears not kept their Trubisky love so quiet, it’s very likely the bidding for the No. 2 pick would have been even more intense than it was.
So, again: The 49ers were talking to multiple teams. Other teams had Trubisky as their No. 1 quarterback. Pace had conviction that Trubisky was his guy and it would cost two third round picks and a fourth rounder to guarantee he got his guy.
“That’s the beauty of how he works,” Nagy said, reflecting on the trade Wednesday. “We’re not afraid to make mistakes. No one is perfect. There are going to be mistakes made, but you do it with full belief in whatever decision you are making. It’s 100 percent and there are no regrets.”
Nagy, of course, was with the Chiefs at the time. Kansas City’s love for Trubisky has been well documented and the Chiefs were plotting their move up from No. 27 to secure their quarterback of the future. Would they have traded up to No. 2 had they known Pace was going to draft Trubisky? These are all possibilities Pace had to consider in the moment, so he pulled the trigger himself.
“I don’t think many people saw that coming but what a great move by Ryan to do that,” Nagy said.
As it turned out, the Chiefs were willing to part with a 2018 first round pick to move up to No. 10 and draft Patrick Mahomes. And what was confirmed to me that weekend by multiple sources was that the Browns also coveted Trubisky and were talking to the 49ers about the No. 2 pick.
Thus, without referencing any hindsight, the idea that Pace was “fleeced” for three middle-round picks to secure the quarterback he had full conviction on is very flawed.
“We knew that they were trying to get that pick and we didn’t know exactly who they were trying to get. And there were a number of teams interested,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed via conference call Wednesday.
Of course, if you want to use hindsight to question the evaluation and argue that Pace should have stayed put for Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson, well, that’s an entirely different conversation. And it’s a conversation that still lacks a concrete conclusion.
But if we are going to use hindsight, here’s something I know for sure: Pace had a great 2017 draft. Lynch did not.
Pace has a young, ascending quarterback and two Pro Bowlers from that draft class. Lynch has George Kittle and is hoping to salvage Solomon Thomas.
As Shanahan said Wednesday, “our goal really was to accumulate a lot of picks.” And Pace’s goal was to acquire Trubisky. Without hindsight, both teams accomplished their goal and no one got “fleeced.”
With hindsight, well, it’s pretty obvious which general manager had the better draft.
2. Chicago Still Home For Gould
Robbie Gould may play for the 49ers now, and he may have single-handedly beat the Bears 15-14 at Soldier Field last year, but in many ways, he still is a Bear. Just ask him how happy he is to see the Bears win the NFC North.
“To see them back in the playoffs is going to be pretty exciting,” Gould said via conference call Wednesday. “I think I’m going to actually go to the game. I’m going to take my boys with me, because I haven’t been able to go to an NFL game with them. For me, I’m just excited for them to be there and watch them hopefully win a Super Bowl.”
Gould has been away from the Bears for three seasons now and the sting of being cut by the franchise he played 11 years for is starting to subside.
“They made a decision to go in a different way to save on some salary cap. Those are business decisions. That’s just how it is. For. me, it’s probably a decision that has helped my career,” he said.
Gould has only missed three field goals since departing Chicago, hitting at an unbelievable 96.3 percent clip over the last three years. For comparison, as good as Gould was in Chicago, the best percentage he posted in a season was 89.7 percent, which he did in 2008 and 2013.
The decision to release Gould was one of Ryan Pace’s worst moves in an otherwise successful four years as Bears general manager, even if there was heavy influence from former head coach John Fox and former special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers. The Bears have used four kickers — Connor Barth, Cairo Santos, Mike Nugent and Cody Parkey — since cutting Gould, and also went through the brief, terribly unsuccessful Roberto Aguayo experiment during the 2017 preseason.
Gould has flourished though, going 10-for-10 for the New York Giants in 2016 and 68-for-71 for the 49ers the last two seasons. All while leaving his heart — and for the most part, his family — back in Chicago.
“My wife and my kids have been home in Chicago the whole year,” Gould said. “We kept them back there to be in school and have some normalcy. This is my third year away from Chicago and I didn’t want to move them two out of the last three years.”
So Gould flew back twice this season, once for the bye week and the other when his five-week-old son was born.
“I think the hard part about the National Football League is sometimes you have to make tough decisions,” Gould said. “My wife was pregnant so she stayed back there and we were able to deliver the baby in Chicago with some familiar faces in a hospital that we were extremely excited to be able to do that.”
Gould is the 49ers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, but most of his charitable work is done back in Chicago with Lurie Children’s Hospital. When he kicked five field goals to beat the Bears at Soldier Field last year, he gave one of the game balls to a young kid he met by the gate who was going through a difficult time.
“The field goals, the kicks, the football career is great, but realistically I hope my legacy, whether it be in Chicago or San Francisco or in New York, you know, I hope people remember me more off the field than they do on the field,” Gould said.
But even at 36, Gould doesn’t sound like a guy who is going to be done on the field any time soon. He’ll be a free agent in the offseason, but a return to Chicago would seem unlikely with $3.5 million in guaranteed money still owed to Cody Parkey in 2019. Still, Gould can’t forget how crazy Chicago gets when the Bears are good, and he’s planning on being a part of it, even if it’s just as a fan at Soldier Field in January.
“When I was back for the bye week and when I was back delivering my five-week old baby a few weeks ago, I started to see a lot of that same passion and energy,” Gould said. “You see the positivity that’s going through the city and as a player, you get excited about that … You talk about how a team has been built, they’re the Monsters of the Midway. Those front four are unbelievable. That’s how when we made it to the Super Bowl, our defensive line played great … These guys are built to make a run.”
3. Relating To Parkey’s Struggles
When Parkey decided to start practicing at Soldier Field earlier this season, he did so in part because special teams coordinator Chris Tabor knew it once worked for Gould. It’s not like Gould did it all the time, but it was helpful, even though the former Bears kicker didn’t like making the long trek back-and-forth to the city.
“There’s really no easy time during the day to do that,” Gould said. “Especially with the practice schedule. I think a lot of it had to do with when you got down there, you kicked extra kicks in the beginning and the first couple of times, obviously you got used to it. You trusted it. It’s just a tough place to kick.”
Gould said he practiced at Soldier Field for four or five weeks, but “then we decided not to go anymore. Just because I thought that I had a good handle on what the conditions were down there.”
But Gould can relate with what Parkey is battling in his first season in Chicago.
“If you go back and watch his film, he’s really had one unfortunate game. He’s a guy who I have a lot of respect for who I think will do really well there,” Gould said. “I think he’ll end up having a great career there. It’s just a matter of once he gets comfortable in the stadium or whether it’s getting used to the wind or the field conditions or the snow or whatever it may be, I think once he gets comfortable, he’s going to be extremely consistent. Really, you take that one game away and he’s had a Pro Bowl type of year.”
That might be a little bit of an overstatement, but if you were to take away the four uprights Parkey hit against the Lions, his field goal percentage would be 84.6 percent and he’d be perfect on his extra points. That’s not a bad season.
Gould has made it known to the Bears organization that he’s willing to consult with their kickers about kicking at Soldier Field, but he did not talk to Parkey during his struggles.
“I think it’s one of those things where if he wants to call me, like I told those guys, he’s more than welcome to call me at any time,” Gould said. “I’d love to help him out, but I’m excited to talk to him (Sunday) in pregame and I’m happy he’s playing for a great organization.”
Coincidentally, Gould happened to be in Chicago when the news helicopters were hovering over Soldier Field during Parkey’s well-publicized practice.
“I think (the coverage was) a little crazy and over the top but just watching him and how he handled it, staying close to some of the guys on the team, just how they’ve rallied around him. His teammates have been awesome,” Gould said.
4. Investigation: Trubisky’s Beard
At this point, no one can ignore Mitchell Trubisky’s scraggly beard. So it was finally time to ask him about it Wednesday.
“Are you just noticing?,” he replied.
Oh, we’ve noticed. Everyone has. So what’s the deal?
“We can’t shave our beards,” he said. “The quarterbacks and (quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone) included. It started … I think I had a trim before the first game and I haven’t touched it since. You can (line up the edges) but you can’t trim.”
Well, not to start a big controversy, but there has already been an objection filed in the quarterbacks room.
“(Mitch has) trimmed. He’s trimmed since Week 1. Oh, yeah. Don’t let him get you,” backup quarterback Chase Daniel told WGN Radio’s Investigation Team.
Trubisky was not immediately available for rebuttal.
Daniel said the quarterbacks were all growing beards since the start of the season, but the pact to keep them until the end of season didn’t come until after the Week 5 bye week.
“We were going to Miami (in Week 6) and all the sudden it was just like, oh we should keep the beards,” Daniel said. “And our beards were really trimmed and really short and we’re like, OK. And then all the sudden they kept getting really long, really long, and we were like, let’s just roll with it.”
Unfortunately for Trubisky, he’s the one who is constantly in front of the cameras and on television, so his is getting the most attention.
“I’ve had a baby-face my whole life and then all of a sudden this year I’ve got a beard,” Trubisky said. “So I was like, I’m going to rock this thing as long as I can. So it’s going to go (to the end of the season).”
Imagine what that thing will look like if the Bears make the Super Bowl. But make no mistake, Trubisky isn’t the one earning sympathy.
“The one guy who got screwed is Tyler (Bray) because his was already long. He was just about to cut his beard, so he had a good two or three weeks on us,” Daniel said. “So that’s why his beard looks way crazier than ours.”
And like it or not, the beards won’t be getting cut anytime soon.
“That’s the deal. Until the end of the season,” Daniel said. “So hopefully we got another two or three months of it.”
5. Time To Get Healthy
It sure sounds like the Bears dodged a couple of bullets with Eddie Jackson (sprained ankle) and Aaron Lynch (sprained elbow) avoiding injured reserve. It seems doubtful either will play this week, but the Bears can afford to rest them up for the playoffs. Neither player practiced on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, right guard Kyle Long is eligible to practice again this week and return next week in Minnesota. Nagy said Long would not practice Wednesday, but added that it is possible he returns to the practice field this week. Depending on how that goes, the Bears could have their starting right guard back for the playoffs.
6. The Opponent: San Francisco 49ers
After acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo and winning their final five games of 2017 (including the win over the Bears) the 49ers (4-10) were hoping to make a major leap forward in 2018. Those hopes were dashed when Garoppolo suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. At that point, the 49ers were 1-2, but their losses were on the road to the Vikings and Chiefs.
Rookie Nick Mullens has done a pretty decent job since taking over the quarterback position, going 3-3 while posting a 96.0 passer rating. It’s pretty obvious that he’s not as dynamic as Garoppolo, but he’s done his job as a backup and he gives the 49ers a chance to win games.
That makes this at least a somewhat tricky game for the Bears and it’s fair to wonder if there will be any kind of letdown after winning the NFC North in an emotional game against the Packers. Remember, the Bears are just 3-3 on the road this year, and the 49ers got a nice overtime win over the Seahawks on Sunday, with Gould kicking the game-winner.
On the other hand, Mullens hasn’t faced a pass-rush like the Bears have so the 49ers can’t feel too good about that matchup. Meanwhile, the way to beat Trubisky is to turn the ball over and the 49ers have just two interceptions as a team this year. The record for least interceptions in a season is held by the Houston Oilers who had just three in 1982.
“We’re right here, about to make history with the least amount of picks and that’s something that we got to get changed,” Shanahan said.
But even though the 49ers rank dead last with a -22 turnover margin, their defense isn’t bad. DeForest Buckner was named a Pro Bowl alternate and will provide a tough test up front.
And don’t forget about special teams. Gould doesn’t miss and rookie kick returner Richie James is averaging 26.3 yards per return and scored a touchdown last week against the Seahawks.
7. The Pick
Bears 20, 49ers 13
It wouldn’t surprise me too much if the Bears suffered another unexpected road loss, but it’s impossible to look at the matchups and predict such a result. The Bears’ defense would have to play very sloppy for that to happen. Perhaps the loss of Eddie Jackson will be a big factor, but as long as the pass rush shows up, the Bears can get by with Deon Bush on the back end for a couple weeks. I don’t expect the offense to put up huge numbers, but since the 49ers don’t intercept the football, Trubisky should do exactly what he did against the Packers — take care of the football and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
8. Quote Of The Week
“In the end there’s really only one winner. Everybody else are losers. And we want to try to be (the winner) in the end.” — Matt Nagy on keeping the urgency up after winning the division.
9. Tweet Of The Week
That’s seven “random” drug tests for Panthers safety Eric Reid in 11 weeks. Doesn’t seem so random.
10. Final Thoughts
— You have to like Trubisky’s reaction to being asked if being named a Pro Bowl alternate means anything to him: “Yes and no. I don’t know. It’s cool to get recognized, but I definitely don’t feel like I’ve played my best football yet.”
— While the Bears are well represented in the Pro Bowl with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen, nose tackle Eddie Goldman was snubbed. Not that I was expecting him to get in — the nature of the position he plays makes it tough — but it’s a shame that the league’s all-star game isn’t conducive to rewarding one of the toughest and important positions in the game. If fullbacks get a seat at the Pro Bowl table, why don’t nose tackles? Ask any offensive coordinator what they think about game-planning for Goldman.
Meanwhile, the NFL is now a league in which nickel defenses are the norm, not a sub-package. And yet, slot corners like Bryce Callahan don’t even appear on the fan ballot? I’m not arguing that Callahan should have gotten in, but I am arguing that there’s something seriously wrong with the voting process.
Oh, and Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (146 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, one interception) and Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones (14 sacks) didn’t get in? Shut the Pro Bowl down right now.
— Last week I ran a Twitter poll asking Bears fans which possible Wild Card opponent they feared the most. The Seahawks were the clear winner with 65 percent of the vote:
And then the Seahawks went and lost to the 49ers, the Vikings’ offense exploded with a new coordinator, and the Eagles rekindled their Nick Foles magic by beating the Rams. And thus, the poll changed drastically when I ran it again this week:
Here’s where I stand: The Seahawks are not a scary team. They have a good defense, but not enough weapons on offense. I’m interested to see if the Vikings offense continues to get better under Kevin Stefanski. They had one good week. Let’s see how the Lions adjust and perform against the Vikings Sunday in Detroit. If Minnesota keeps this up for another couple of weeks, then I would be more concerned about them in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Eagles could be the most dangerous opponent. If they finish the season with wins over the Texans and Redskins, they would enter the playoffs on a three-game winning streak and having won five of their last six games. And you know they’d be playing up the same underdog mentality that led them to a Super Bowl with Foles last year. I’m not saying they can go on the same type of run, but for one week in the Wild Card round? I think it makes Philadelphia an opponent you don’t want to play.