Ryan Pace has a somewhat conflicted reputation among Chicago Bears nation. Many see him as a guy who took over the worst team in professional football in 2015 and rebuilt it into something worthy of a respect. A division champion in 2018 with one of the best defenses seen in many years. At the same time, he’s also the guy who passed on Patrick Mahomes for Mitch Trubisky and hasn’t put a top 15 offense on the field in his entire tenure. So yeah, people aren’t sure how to feel about him. So maybe this Kyle Long story might help.

Dan Pompei of The Athletic is the best Bears writer in the business. He did an in-depth look at the former three-time Pro Bowl guard’s seven-year career. One filled with dizzying highs and painful, painful lows. The worst low came in 2016. People don’t know how banged up Long was even before his season-ending ankle injury against Tampa Bay that season. It turns out he’d been playing up to that point with a torn labrum. It was suggested Long have surgery to repair it and sit out the year. He refused.

That decision was not unappreciated by Pace, who made him a promise.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace makes Long feel comfortable with his decision. Says Long, “He looked at me and said, ‘Kyle, I want you to know we’re not going to forget this. We’re going to take care of you. Do what you can do, that’s enough. We’ve got your back.’”

Before the start of the regular season, the Bears sign him to a four-year contract extension worth $40 million.

Pace could’ve balked in negotiations with Kyle Long

Understand that not every GM would’ve done that. Quite a few would’ve balked in negotiations upon hearing Long tore his shoulder up. Instead, Pace did the humane thing and made a guy who’d sacrificed so much already for the organization one of the highest-paid guards in the league. That is really cool stuff. It’s also undoubtedly a big factor in why Long chose to never wear another team’s uniform and retired a Bear.

“It’s a bottom-line business,” Long says. “If No. 75 isn’t blocking the (man) in front of him, he has no place on our team. I respect that. When I spoke to Nagy, he essentially verbalized that, and I told him if I were him, I would have done this a long time ago because I hadn’t blocked (anybody) in weeks. The Bears took care of me for a long time when I was hurt. Guys don’t get two, three chances in the league. I did.”

Long will always be a fan favorite and one of the biggest what-if stories in franchise history. Had he stayed healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him becoming one of the best offensive lineman ever produced in Chicago. He was that good. Sadly, that isn’t the ending his story got. Still, at least he got his money.