CHICAGO - Chicago general manager Ryan Pace is all wired and ready to go for the draft. He thinks the Bears are, too.
Chicago comes in with no first-round picks for the second year in a row, having traded them to Oakland for star linebacker Khalil Mack prior to the 2018 season. But with two second-rounders at numbers 43 and 50 and seven selections in all, the Bears hope to add some key pieces as they try to shake off a disappointing season.
“It puts it on us as evaluators and scouts and coaches to maximize the draft picks we have,” Pace said Tuesday. “Fortunately we have two twos and it is a deep draft, and we just gotta capitalize at that point.”
The Bears went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years, a huge letdown after winning the NFC North at 12-4 in 2018. While a defense that has ranked among the league’s best in recent years continued to perform at a high level, the offense was one of the least productive in the NFL.
Though the Bears have been busy, bringing in pass rusher Robert Quinn to take the load off Mack and former All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, they still have some big question marks.
It’s not clear how much Graham has left after getting released by Green Bay. But he has a strong connection to Pace, who had a hand in drafting him while working in New Orleans’ front office.
The Bears need help on the offensive line and more playmakers to go with receiver Allen Robinson. The wish list also includes a cornerback and safety to go with Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson.
And there’s a different setup to the draft this year, with headquarters off limits because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of Halas Hall, Pace has been working at home the past month, enjoying the extra family time and making the most of the challenges that come with the setup.
Having dinner every night with his wife, Stephanie, and 10-year-old daughter Cardyn, something he couldn’t remember doing for a month straight.
Pace credits the Bears’ technology staff for a “seamless” transition to working at home. He said they boosted the bandwidth in his house about a week ago, so he no longer has to worry about a slow WiFi connection when Cardyn uses her iPad. He just hopes no one trips over the cord running from the router down the stairs to the dining room, where he has seven monitors, or knocks out a wire again. Stephanie did that the other day while vacuuming, causing each screen to go blank.
“There will be a lot of fun stories to tell when this is all said and done,” Pace said. “It’s been a really unique circumstance, but they’ve been awesome through the whole process and I’m just very thankful for them.”
The draft wasn’t the only issue Pace addressed on Tuesday. He was asked about releasing veteran tight end Trey Burton last week after an injury-riddled year.
Burton had a solid first season with the Bears in 2018 after signing a $32 million, four-year contract, but played in just eight games last year. He dealt with a groin problem and then went on injured reserve in November after hurting his calf.
Burton became expendable after the Bears signed Demetrius Harris and Graham.
“I just think when we took a complete picture of our whole roster and kind of stepped back and looked at everything — and now where we are in that tight end room and what we can do to help us from a financial standpoint as well — to be honest, all those factors go into it,” Pace said. “It’s a multiple of things that we discussed and we just made the decision that was best for us overall.”
Pace also said Tuesday the team has not decided whether to exercise quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s fifth-year option, with the deadline in May. The Bears acquired former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in a trade with Jacksonville to challenge for the starting job after Trubisky struggled in his third season.
“We’ll cross that bridge once we get through this weekend,” Pace said.