The date is January 7, 2015. The Bears have just announced the hiring of the youngest general manager in the NFL in Ryan Pace. Pace’s approach is clear, aggressive and nearly unprecedented in Bears history, he is going to rebuild the Bears from the ground up. He is going to get rid of the old guard in the locker room, the failed signings from front offices past and build through the draft. He inherits one of the oldest rosters in the NFL and a fan-base tired of watching their team spin their tires in the mud.
His first move as general manager was hiring John Fox as Head Coach, passing on names such as Adam Gase and Gary Kubiak, the latter of whom would go on to win a Super Bowl the next year with Fox’s old team. He began gutting the roster, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Roberto Garza, all let go. Brandon Marshall, traded. Pace was clearly going to be aggressive. Pace’s first draft pick was speedy wide receiver Kevin White out of West Virginia at seventh overall. Pace’s big free agent signing was Pernell McPhee, who was released Monday after three disappointing, injury riddled seasons. His most notable moment, an iconic chewing out of Jay Cutler as he walked off the field, while McPhee was in street clothes. White has yet to play more than four games in a season for the Bears and his time with the team appears to be winding down.
Since Pace has taken over the Bears and began his rebuild, the city of Chicago has seen the Blackhawks win their third Stanley Cup in five years in 2015, and The Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years in 2016. Both teams had embarked on aggressive, ground up rebuilds. The Hawks first championship coming in 2010, just four years after their rebuild started in earnest after the 2006 season and the Cubs’ championship coming in year five of Epstein’s rebuild.
The other two major teams in Chicago? The White Sox are in the midst of one the most promising rebuilds in baseball, as charismatic General Manager Rick Hahn appears to make the right move at every turn. Excitement is at a fever pitch for Sox fans as was evident at the annual Sox Fest in January. The Bulls, the team with perhaps the most hated front office in all of Chicago, are slowly beginning to change minds and build faith in their rebuilding effort, that began with a maligned trade of Jimmy Butler during the draft. The players the Bulls got in the trade, Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn have all turned heads with their play and the Bulls arrow is solidly pointing up.
So since Ryan Pace has taken over, the White Sox and Bulls have stocked their team with exciting young talent, and the Hawks and Cubs have both won championships. Where do the Bears stand? The Bears are entering the fourth year of their rebuild, and need nearly half of their roster addressed this offseason. Compare that to Chicago’s other teams. Entering the fourth year of their respective rebuilds, both the Hawks and Cubs provided reason to believe, their young players were beginning to prove they had what it took to win. The Sox rebuild is beginning to take encouraging shape in just it’s second year, as the Bulls rebuild has a clearly positive trajectory in it’s first year.
At this point in the rebuild for Chicago’s other teams, when fans suffering had begun turning into real tangible hope, Bears fans are left grasping at hyperbole from Pace and looking at mock drafts. Having been passed by the Sox and Bulls in terms of promise, and overshadowed by the victories of the Cubs and Blackhawks. The Bears teeter on irrelevance as their rebuild continues to take longer than anyone expected, or should be reasonably expected to suffer through.
Only last year did Ryan Pace decide to take a stab at arguably the most important position in sports at Quarterback. The results were one $18 million dollar bust, and a rookie who has still proven nothing. Rather than beginning to surround his franchise quarterback with the final pieces of a prolific offense, and adding the final pieces to a defense which Pace made a priority since day one, the Bears are left taking mulligans on mistakes made in 2015, when Pace first took over.
The current state of the Bears can almost be described as re-rebuilding. Multiple busts for Ryan Pace in both free agency and the draft, as well as letting players like Alshon Jeffery walk, have left the Bears with barest cupboard in the city, despite being now the oldest rebuild in Chicago. The Bears entered the offseason needing to address receiver and cornerback. Reports are the Bears are letting young cornerback Kyle Fuller walk, because apparently Pace didn’t learn his lesson about that in 2017 with Alshon Jeffery. The Bears have released three of Pace’s biggest free agent signings in Pernell McPhee, Jerrell Freeman and Josh Sitton, and the Bears feel as directionless as ever.
The Bears last playoff win was in 2010, which was followed by a painful loss to the hated Packers. Since then the Bears have won ten games only once, a year they missed the playoffs, and fans are getting tired. The Bears have question marks at guard, receiver, defensive back, linebacker, kicker and tight end. Not exactly where one would hope a team would be sitting entering their fourth year of Chicago’s most frustrating rebuild since a fire burned the city down.
The Bears hope they have found their franchise quarterback in Mitch Trubisky, and early signs are promising, but no one really knows because incompetent coaching prevented anyone from truly seeing what the Bears have in Trubisky. The team is still waiting on Leonard Floyd to prove he can stay healthy and be an effective pass rusher for the Bears. 2018 will have the Bears being led by their third coach in the last six seasons. For a team that committed to stop spinning in the mud, it begins to feel a lot like just that.
Compared to the hope that Cubs and Blackhawks rebuilds provided, and the enthusiasm the Sox and Bulls fan-bases have about their current rebuilds, the Bears are a different case. With more questions than answers and, more problems than solutions, the Bears feel nearly as far away as they did in 2015. Only this time, patience is running out. If Ryan Pace is indeed the man to lead the Bears to their first championship since 1985, now is the time to show it.