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Professional

Nothing to trade means Bears likely won’t be in first round

Pace just sitting this one out

The Bears have no first-round pick in this year’s draft, having sent it to Oakland in exchange for edge rusher Khalil Mack last summer.
The Bears have no first-round pick in this year’s draft, having sent it to Oakland in exchange for edge rusher Khalil Mack last summer.

LAKE FOREST – There may not be a more aggressive general manager in the NFL than the Bears’ Ryan Pace, who maintains a “no regrets mindset” when it comes to constructing his roster.

But even Pace acknowledged Tuesday at his annual pre-draft press conference that with only five total selections and none in the top 86, the Bears are all but certain to solely be spectators on Night 1 Thursday for the first time in 9 years.

“That’d be tough,” said Pace, who has traded up in each of his first four drafts with the organization, of potentially maneuvering into Round 1. “It’d be hard, just because we don’t have a lot of ammunition.”

The good news: The Bears, coming off their 12-4 division title breakthrough, also don’t have a lot of needs. What Pace says they’ll have plenty of Thursday and the first portion of Friday evening are Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller highlights playing in Halas Hall’s fancy new Draft Room as the personnel department awaits its opportunity to draft.

“Well, one thing [that] will change [about this year’s process] is when our pick comes up, Khalil Mack highlights will come on instantly, so that’s the first thing that will happen,” Pace quipped (we think).

Of course, the Bears, who sent their first-rounder last year to Oakland for Mack and their second-rounder to New England draft weekend for the right to draft Miller, will be paying close attention to which prospects and positions are being selected and how the moves affect their draft board. And anyone who’s been paying attention to Pace’s drafting track record knows that he’s done his best work on Days 2 and 3, where he admits his focus has been heightened this spring relative to years past.

“I would say I’ve spent more time in the mid-round area in this draft than I have in the past,” Pace admitted in a rare moment Tuesday of
complete candor.

The Bears might not be picking in Round 1 this year, but they’re committed to drafting the best available player every time they’re on the clock, something Pace said might be easier to pull off this year given the strength of the roster, if not limited draft resources.

“The good thing about this draft, is I don’t feel like we’re going into it – and I kind of know what the narrative is out there – but we feel fortunate with our roster right now,” Pace said. “This press conference feels a little different in that there’s no pressing, huge needs. We can honestly select the best players. That’s a great spot to be in.”

Yes, Pace is aware of the “narratives” out there regarding his running back room after the ground game rarely got on track last season, preceding the trade of Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles.

That doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees with them.

Pace reiterated on multiple occasions when asked about the trade of Howard that the Bears are very pleased with the position’s current depth chart, which currently would have newcomer Mike Davis at the top.

“When you talk about trades, I think there’s always a narrative out there, ‘Oh, you could get this.’ This is the reality,” he said. “You know what I mean? We work those channels all the time. We’re doing them right now. That’s the reality of what it is. Again, we feel really good about that room and we wish Jordan the best.”

After ascending from the 150th overall pick in 2015 to the most productive runner in franchise history through his first two seasons, Howard qualifies as one of Pace’s biggest draft success stories to date. Though he’s developed a reputation around the league for his work in the later rounds, Pace also has consistently found contributors from the undrafted ranks.

The Bears this weekend expect to add roughly 18-20 college free agents, Pace said, and the confluence of him having so few picks and Chicago becoming an increasingly attractive destination could mark a unique opportunity to build on that success.

“We know basically what we’ll be targeted in free agency, how the draft unfolds a little bit. We know where we’re going to allocate money based on the value of the player. That’s an exciting part of it,” Pace said of attacking the UDFA market.

As for attacking his most scrutinized position – placekicker – Pace acknowledged the Bears’ No. 1 goal is to maximize competition and left the door open for potentially spending his first draft
pick with the Bears on a specialist.

“If he’s graded at that value and we get to that place in the draft and that [name] is sticking up there that high, I think you have to explore it,” he said.

Pace might not be actively exploring avenues to get into the first round, but don’t discount the possibility of some kind of splash via trade.

“You just don’t have as much ammunition maybe to go up,” said Pace. “At the same time, you guys know how we operate. It’s kind of a no regrets mindset. If there’s a player there falling that we have great value on, we’re going to explore it.”

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