The Bears pinned their faith in the power structure at Halas Hall over the last four years and the idea they’ve been on the right track all along on some form of the word “collaboration.” As Year 4 of the Matt Nagy era comes to an end Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium, one of the main collaborators may well survive.
That is the undercurrent of discussion among folks around the league with speculation general manager Ryan Pace will remain employed. There is no doubt from anyone Nagy will be fired — perhaps as soon as Sunday evening — but league sources have said for some time word is Pace will find a way to make it to an eighth season with the organization, and that buzz has only amplified the last two weeks.
Nothing is certain until Chairman George McCaskey, who has not spoken publicly since last January, outlines his vision for the franchise. Until McCaskey sits down for a Zoom call, which also will put him in position to discuss the team’s purchase of land in Arlington Heights and a new stadium plan, anything is possible. And there are others around the league convinced Pace and Nagy will be fired.
The Bears are 48-66 including the postseason under Pace with one winning season, two playoff appearances, no playoff victories and one executive of the year award. His resume is such that McCaskey would have an easier time announcing a firing than a decision to retain Pace, who was hired in 2015.
But if you believe half of what you hear, there’s a growing chance Pace remains and is even promoted to a president role overseeing football operations.
That would mean Pace has done an exceptional job untangling himself from Nagy, whom he chose as the 16th coach in team history in 2018. A promotion could also mean President/CEO Ted Phillips, likely to stay as the franchise pushes ahead with stadium plans, would get a revised title.
Keep in mind McCaskey and his family have an affinity for Pace and credited him as the driving force behind the more than $100 million renovation of the team facility and practice fields. That’s not a small part of this equation for Pace, the third GM to work under McCaskey, who came into power in 2011.
In nearly 90 minutes of conference calls last January — the first part a session with McCaskey and Phillips and the second half with Pace and Nagy — the foursome used “collaborate” or “collaboration” 16 times. McCaskey and Pace uttered it five times each, Nagy four times and Phillips twice. It was the point the men kept circling back to during an unwinnable news conference that was short on details and heavy on corporate jargon.
“I can confidently say there aren’t a lot of teams that have the relationships we have in our building to be able to make good decisions together,” Pace said.
The impression at the time was the general manager and coach were connected at the hip, that they would either lead the Bears back to contention in lockstep or be dismissed at the same time. It’s possible they’ve been separated with Nagy clearly on his way out with one year remaining on his contract and Pace remaining to play a role in charting a bold new future.
If so, the overabundance of blame for what is currently a 6-10 season entering Week 18 shifts to Nagy and his coaching staff just a year after McCaskey carefully weighed the future of both Pace and Nagy before deciding to give them an opportunity to reboot the roster by taking a shot at another quarterback.
That process led the Bears to trade up in the draft and select Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick. Maybe McCaskey wants to allow Pace to see through the development of the young passer with a new coaching staff. The Bears remain high on Fields despite a rocky rookie season in which he has a 2-8 record as a starter, missed four games because of rib and ankle injuries and is likely to be sidelined against the Vikings after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday.
The Bears have to maintain belief Fields is the future of the organization and there is hope other members of the 2021 draft class offer promise. Much remains unknown about second-round offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, but fifth-rounder Larry Borom is headed for his eighth start Sunday. Running back Khalil Herbert has maximized his playing opportunities and it is possible cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. will be positioned to compete for playing time in 2022.
However it plays out in the next 72 to 96 hours will be fascinating. The Bears have reached a crossroads for the second time in two years and the third time in five years. If McCaskey blows up the operation on the football side, it’s easily explainable, and questions immediately will focus on who and what is next. Again, some believe this is the course of action that will occur as McCaskey will realize retaining Pace is simply too difficult to justify.
If Nagy is fired and Pace remains to plot a new direction, whether in his current role or with a new title, it will be because he’s not only revered in the building, but there is conviction he can build around the quarterback he was allowed to land.
“Sometimes you have to take the route that you think is best, even if — when it’s not the most popular decision,” McCaskey said last year. “We’re aware of that and we’re prepared for that.”
If McCaskey reiterates that line of thinking, it will be clear the real collaborators were Nagy and his assistants.
<mark class=”hl_purple”>K.J. Osborn, Vikings wide receiver</mark>
Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.
K.J. Osborn, 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, is in his second season after being drafted in the fifth round in 2020 out of Miami. Osborn played exclusively on special teams as a rookie but has emerged as a third receiver this season and has taken advantage of expanded opportunities with Adam Thielen (ankle) set to miss his fifth consecutive game.
Osborn is fourth on the team with 49 receptions for 634 yards (12.9) and six touchdowns, and has caught a touchdown pass in four of the last five games. The Bears limited him to three receptions for 21 yards in the first meeting with the Vikings on Dec. 20.
“K.J. Osborn has been a nice discovery for them in a disappointing season,” the scout said. “He started his career at the University of Buffalo and was a graduate transfer to Miami, where he played for one season. I liked his tape at Buffalo. That offense back then was spread heavy, lot of bubbles, lot of RPOs.
“He’s got lateral juice, he’s got ball-carrier traits and you saw it on his college tape as a punt returner. Anyone that can return punts has excellent vision and knows how to handle the football. That’s what I thought he would be in the NFL, a Day 3 pick, a guy that would make the squad as a returner and be a four-phase core special teams player and maybe a WR4.
“He got the chance to be a WR3 this season and now with Thielen out, you’re starting to see he is much more than just a short-area speed guy. He’s got vertical stretch ability to go down the field. You go back to the Thursday night game at Pittsburgh, they set up a shot play just for him. That tells you right there (offensive coordinator) Klint Kubiak and that coaching staff believe in him. They are scheming throws to get him downfield and they hit a big one in that game against the Steelers to win it.
“He can separate and track the ball down the field. I think he’s got toughness and he’s got a decent frame too. He’s not some 5-11, 180-pound wideout. He can work the middle of the field, which is big in Minnesota because they run so many crossers and in-breakers. They found something here and the next step is to keep developing him to the point where you believe he can eventually take over Thielen’s spot. He’s getting older and will be slowing down.”
Source: Berkshire mont