Ryan Pace has a mixed reputation these days. The Chicago Bears GM faced an unenviable task when he took over in 2015. He inherited the oldest roster in the NFL, an overpaid quarterback, and a fractured locker room. He had to tear it all down and build it up again. This he did and in the space of four offseasons transformed the roster into one of the most talented in the league. However, not all of his moves were followed by success.
His 1st round exploits have become a serious sore spot for the franchise. Kevin White? Out of the league. Leonard Floyd? A disappointment. Mitch Trubisky? Sliding into bust territory. Roquan Smith? Good but ended the year on Injured Reserve. This in addition to some highly questionable free agent moves including Mike Glennon, Cody Parkey, and Trey Burton among others. At the end of the day though, it’s about wins and losses.
Pace is 34-46 in his tenure as GM. One winning season in five years. There is no escaping that. Bears ownership has said they have full confidence in him going into 2020, but his back is most definitely against the wall. If he can’t deliver, there is a belief that his time will come to an end in Chicago. So what does the franchise do if that happens?
Here’s an early look at who their top options are likely to be.
If Ryan Pace falls next season, who will rise from his ashes?
Champ Kelly (Assistant Director of Player Personnel)
Kelly has seen his star steadily rise over the past several years. He’s widely considered one of the best pro personnel guys in the game. Since 2010 he’s had a hand in his teams acquiring eight Pro Bowl players via free agency. That includes Akiem Hicks and Cordarrelle Patterson in Chicago. Not to mention his help in trading for Khalil Mack. The New York Jets almost hired him as their GM this past year. So it’s clear enough Kelly has the eye of other teams. If the Bears don’t want to shake things up too much, promoting him would be an easy decision.
Will McClay (Dallas Cowboys VP of Player Personnel)
A former Arena League star, McClay spent the first 15 years of his post-playing days as a coach and scout in the AFL and XFL. This drew attention from the Dallas Cowboys who added him to their personnel department in 2009. From there he rapidly rose up the ranks to become their Assistant Director of Player Personnel in 2014. It’s right around that time the team got really good in the draft. Among their scores included Zack Martin, Demarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, and Dak Prescott. These successes got him promoted again in 2018. He’s 53 and ready for his opportunity.
George Paton (Minnesota Vikings Assistant GM)
Teams have had an interest in Paton for several years now. That’s not a surprise given how much success the Vikings have had at constructing their roster since he arrived. Among the many finds the team has made include Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, and Dalvin Cook. Paton has worked in the scouting business since the late 1990s. He actually got his start in the business with the Bears, rising to become their Assistant Director of Pro Personnel in 2000. He has a history with the franchise.
Ed Dodds (Indianapolis Colts Assistant GM)
The Bears chose not to hire Chris Ballard back in 2015 over Pace. So might they have interest in his right-hand man? Dodds was one of the key personnel experts who helped build the 2013 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks team. This is what drew him to Indianapolis where he has helped the Colts construct an impressive roster headlined by Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Marlon Mack, and Malik Hooker. He’s received an education from some of the best in the business.
Rick Smith (former Houston Texans GM)
A man who holds a GM job for over a decade has to be either pretty good at it or amazing at convincing the owners he is. For Smith, it was definitely the former. When he took over the Houston Texans in 2006, he quickly developed a reputation for consisted excellence in the draft. Especially in the 1st round. Through the end of his tenure in 2017, he has picked 14 eventual Pro Bowl players. Headlining the group are Mario Williams, Duane Brown, J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Brooks, and Deshaun Watson. This guy is a legitimate, proven team builder.
Martin Mayhew (San Francisco 49ers VP of player personnel)
Mayhew started at the absolute bottom. He took over the Detroit Lions coming out of the misery that was the Matt Millen era. His first season the team went 0-16 in 2008. The job ahead of him to rebuild it all was unenviable to say the least. All things considered, the guy did one hell of a job. He swiftly assembled a roster that was easily one of the best Detroit had seen in years, headlined by Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, Darius Slay, and Ezekiel Ansah. He also drafted Cliff Avril who had 74 sacks in his career. Since leaving he ended up in San Francisco as a top personnel guy. That team is now in the NFC championship.
Jeff Ireland (New Orleans Saints Assistant GM)
The Bears might be reluctant to go back to the Saints well again after the Pace experience. However, Ireland brings far more credibility to the table. He was GM in Miami from 2008 to 2013 and had a ton of success with players like Jake Long, Mike Pouncey, Reshad Jones, Vontae Davis, Olivier Vernon, and Ryan Tannehill being among his biggest acquisitions. His influence has also helped the Saints. Since he arrived in 2015, they’ve enjoyed an uptick in successful drafting. Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, and Alvin Kamara are all names he helped get.
Louis Riddick (ESPN)
While he’s known these days for his work on ESPN as a top analyst, Riddick is highly respected in the football community. He played in the NFL from 1991 to 1998 then became a scout in 2001. From there he rose to become a pro personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles by 2010. During his time in that role, the Eagles had a lot of success luring big-name free agents. Among them included Jason Babin, Connor Barwin, and Evan Mathis. All went to the Pro Bowl during their time in Philadelphia. Riddick is up-to-date on all the league trends and would come in with an unbiased eye.
Daniel Jeremiah (NFL Network)
A growing trend in the NFL is teams hiring prominent names from media positions to become GMs. It worked with John Lynch in San Francisco and again with Mike Mayock in Oakland/Las Vegas. Daniel Jeremiah is widely viewed as the next logical choice in this avenue. He’s done great work for NFL Network since 2012 as a top draft expert. Before that, he served as a college scout in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. He received educations from the likes of Ozzie Newsome and Howie Roseman. Jeremiah has a well-trained eye for talent.