On the surface, it is the most unusual rivalry in the NFL. Ryan Pace vs Chris Ballard? One works in the NFC. The other in the AFC. They came from different teams to get their respective jobs. Pace is eight years younger than Ballard. So how in the world is it that they’ve been connected like this? Well, it all started back in January of 2015.

Phil Emery had just been fired as GM of the Chicago Bears after three rough seasons in which he took a 10-6 team to 5-11 and one of the biggest laughing stocks in the NFL. Team chairman George McCaskey wanted a fresh start and needed somebody with the vision and credentials to pull it off. After an extensive search process aided by former GM Ernie Accorsi, it came down to two choices.

The first and most popular in the eyes of many was Ballard. He was the Director of Player Personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly? He’d been a scout for the Bears for several years from 2001 to 2012. It seemed like a slam dunk that McCaskey would bring back a familiar face to save the organization.

There were two problems with that. One was the fact that Emery had been a former Bears scout as well and they just saw how that went. The other was Pace, who by all accounts delivered a strong and detailed interview that left the team brass impressed. In the end, McCaskey went with his gut and made Pace the next GM of the Bears.

Ryan Pace vs Chris Ballard was born that day

Intended or otherwise, the rivalry began that day. Several fans and media were stunned by the decision. A few were even insulted. In their minds, it was a layup decision and the Bears still somehow managed to airball it. Ballard finally got his own opportunity two years later when the Indianapolis Colts made him their next GM. Since then the two teams have been on remarkably similar courses, each hiring new head coaches in 2018 and making the playoffs that same year.

Both men soon went head-to-head for Executive of the Year honors. Ballard won the NFL’s version but Pace received the more prestigious Sporting News version. Since then the arguments have continued to rage over who is better. So it’s time to take a stab at answering that question. The following is a comparison of the 2017 and 2018 offseasons of work done by Ballard and Pace. Obviously, 2019 will be held out because none of the moves can yet be assessed.

Each move made in the draft, free agency and the trade market will be given a note. Either it was a HIT or a MISS. Determinations of what constitutes either will be explained below. After the data is compiled, the numbers will be crunched to determine who had a higher hit rate with their moves.

The Draft

Determining successful draft picks isn’t too difficult. Did the pick end up becoming a starter for the team? If the answer is yes, then in the context of this piece it can be considered a hit.

Ballard:

  • Malik Hooker – HIT
  • Quincy Wilson – MISS
  • Tarell Basham – MISS
  • Zach Banner – MISS
  • Marlon Mack – HIT
  • Grover Stewart – MISS
  • Nate Hairston – HIT
  • Anthony Walker – HIT
  • Quenton Nelson – HIT
  • Darius Leonard – HIT
  • Braden Smith – HIT
  • Kemoko Turay – MISS
  • Tyquan Lewis – MISS
  • Nyheim Hines – MISS
  • Daurice Fountain – MISS
  • Jordan Wilkins – MISS
  • Deon Cain – MISS
  • Matthew Adams – MISS
  • Zaire Franklin – MISS

Pace:

  • Mitchell Trubisky – HIT
  • Adam Shaheen – MISS
  • Eddie Jackson – HIT
  • Tarik Cohen – HIT
  • Jordan Morgan – MISS
  • Roquan Smith – HIT
  • James Daniels – HIT
  • Anthony Miller – HIT
  • Joel Iyiegbuniwe – MISS
  • Bilal Nichols – HIT
  • Kylie Fitts – MISS
  • Javon Wims – MISS

Free agency

Noting which free agents are a HIT or a MISS is a bit more difficult because most are slotted in as starters because of the contracts they signed. They’re not earned like is the case with draft picks. So in order to make a determination, they will be judged on whether they made meaningful contributions as starters. Were they standouts or did they flounder or get injured?

Ballard:

  • Johnathan Hankins – HIT
  • Jabaal Sheard – HIT
  • John Simon – HIT
  • Margus Hunt – HIT
  • Al Woods – HIT
  • Jeff Locke – MISS
  • Kamar Aiken – MISS
  • Sean Spence – MISS
  • Barkevious Mingo – MISS
  • Brandon Williams – MISS
  • Christine Michael – MISS
  • Jon Bostic – HIT
  • Ryan Grant – MISS
  • Mike Mitchell – MISS
  • Najee Goode – HIT
  • Denico Autry – HIT
  • Matt Slauson – MISS
  • Branden Oliver – MISS
  • Chris McCain – MISS
  • Eric Ebron – HIT
  • Ryan Hewitt – MISS
  • Shamarko Thomas – MISS
  • Austin Howard – MISS

Pace:

  • Marcus Cooper – MISS
  • Taylor Boggs – MISS
  • Tom Compton – HIT
  • Mark Sanchez – HIT
  • Quintin Demps – MISS
  • Prince Amukamara – HIT
  • Dan Skuta – MISS
  • Jaye Howard – MISS
  • Benny Cunningham – HIT
  • Dion Sims – MISS
  • B.W. Webb – MISS
  • Victor Cruz – MISS
  • Kelvin Sheppard – MISS
  • Markus Wheaton – MISS
  • John Jenkins – MISS
  • Bradley Sowell – HIT
  • Mike Glennon – MISS
  • Kendall Wright – HIT
  • Taylor Gabriel – HIT
  • Allen Robinson – HIT
  • Tyler Bray – MISS
  • Cody Parkey – MISS
  • Chase Daniel – HIT
  • Kasim Edebali – MISS
  • Trey Burton – HIT
  • Aaron Lynch – HIT

Trades

Ballard:

  • March 9, 2017: Traded Dwayne Allen and 2017 6th round pick (200th overall subsequently traded, Adam Bisnowaty) to Patriots for 2017 4th round pick (137th overall, Zach Banner) MISS
  • April 29, 2017: Traded 2017 4th round pick (121st overall, Joe Williams) to 49ers for 2017 4th round pick (143rd overall, Marlon Mack) and 2017 5th round pick (161st overall, Anthony Walker) HIT
  • August 28, 2017: Traded Thomas Hennessy to Jets for Ronald Martin MISS
  • September 2, 2017: Traded Phillip Dorsett to Patriots for Jacoby Brissett HIT
  • March 17, 2018: Traded 2018 1st round pick (3rd overall, Sam Darnold) to Jets for 2018 1st round pick (6th overall, Quenton Nelson), 2018 2nd round pick (37th overall, Braden Smith), 2018 2nd round pick (49th overall subsequently traded, Dallas Goedert) and 2019 2nd round pick (34th overall, Rock Ya-Sin) HIT
  • April 27, 2018: Traded 2018 3rd round pick (67th overall, Chad Thomas) and 2018 6th round pick (178th overall subsequently traded, Christian Sam) to Browns for 2018 2nd round pick (64th overall, Tyquan Lewis) MISS
  • April 27, 2018: Traded 2018 2nd round pick (49th overall, Dallas Goedert) to Eagles for 2018 2nd round pick (52nd overall, Kemoko Turay) and 2018 5th round pick (169th overall, Jordan Wilkins) HIT
  • April 28, 2018: Traded Henry Anderson to Jets for 2018 7th round pick (235th overall, Zaire Franklin) MISS
  • April 28, 2018: Traded 2018 5th round pick (140th overall, Maurice Hurst) to Raiders for 2018 5th round pick (159th overall, Daurice Fountain) and 2018 6th round pick (185th overall, Deon Cain) MISS
  • August 26, 2018: Traded Antonio Morrison to Packers for Lenzy Pipkins MISS
  • September 1, 2018: Traded Darrell Daniels to Seahawks for Marcus Johnson HIT

Pace:

  • April 27, 2017: Traded 2017 1st round pick (3rd overall, Solomon Thomas), 2017 3rd round pick (67th overall subsequently traded, Alvin Kamara), 2017 4th round pick (111th overall subsequently traded, Tedric Thompson) and 2018 3rd round pick (70th overall, Fred Warner) to 49ers for 2017 1st round pick (2nd overall, Mitchell Trubisky) HIT
  • April 28, 2017: Traded 2017 2nd round pick (36th overall, Budda Baker) to Cardinals for 2017 2nd round pick (45th overall, Adam Shaheen), 2017 4th round pick (119th overall, Tarik Cohen), 2017 6th round pick (197th overall subsequently traded, Jeremy Clark) and 2018 4th round pick (115th overall, Joel Iyiegbuniwe) HIT
  • April 29, 2017: Traded 2017 4th round pick (117th overall, Josh Reynolds) and 2017 6th round pick (197th overall subsequently traded, Jeremy Clark) to Rams for 2017 4th round pick (112th overall, Eddie Jackson) HIT
  • October 26, 2017: Traded a conditional 2018 pick (terms not met, pick not conveyed) to Chargers for Dontrelle Inman HIT
  • April 27, 2018: Traded 2018 4th round pick (105th overall subsequently traded, Antonio Callaway) and 2019 2nd round pick (56th overall subsequently traded, Mecole Hardman) to Patriots for 2018 2nd round pick (51st overall, Anthony Miller) HIT
  • September 1, 2018: Traded Deiondre’ Hall to Eagles for 2019 7th round pick (222nd overall, Kerrith Whyte, Jr.) MISS*
  • September 1, 2018: Traded 2019 1st round pick (24th overall, Josh Jacobs), a 2020 1st round pick, a 2020 3rd round pick and 2019 6th round pick (196th overall subsequently traded, Blessuan Austin) to Raiders for Khalil Mack, a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 pick (5th round pick). HIT

Ballard = 21-of-53 (39.62%) Pace = 24-of-45 (53.33%)

The data shows that both GMs have been close in terms of hitting on a similar number of players. A testament to their obvious skill. However, where Pace managed to pull away in this battle was scoring more contributors for his team amidst fewer total players acquired. Three more hits despite eight fewer moves.

A lot of people may not accept these findings for one reason or another, but it was judged under as fair of circumstances as possible. Take them for what you will. If nothing else, the rivalry will make it that much more fun to watch these two work.