By Robert Zeglinski
In the film Draft Day starring Kevin Costner as Cleveland Browns fictional general manager Sonny Weaver, he has a cliché referendum that he repeats throughout the duration of the movie: His vow to sticking to a selection of the best overall prospect in his mind at a seventh overall pick.
“Vontae Mack. No matter what.”
“No matter what” meaning even in consideration of a trade, or multiple trades, or if another consensus top player falls to Weaver’s Browns, they still select their best player either way.
It’s not a realistic philosophy for NFL general managers – in fact, it’s a stubborn mindset and much of the film is classically spiced up in Hollywood fashion with ludicrous trades in the fallout.
But said fallout illustrates an important ideal for the 2017 Bears and their lead man in Ryan Pace.
They must find a way to trade down and get more chances at core players in one of the best, deepest draft classes in years. Just a week away from next Thursday’s first round, it’s all the more clear. It’s time for Pace to do his best impression of Weaver, but in a much more logical fashion to fill out his rebuilding, budding Chicago roster.
Monday Morning Quarterback’s Peter King reported earlier this week that the Bears are one of three teams “eager” to actually trade down, along with the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, and that’s the right mindset for this organization.
A contending team in the NFL is built through the acquisition of more draft picks, of picking many talented players that fit your program and culture to a tee. And how you do that is finding willing dancing partners of other organizations who want to slot in higher. Easier said than done of course, but it’s the model of success.
The crux of the matter is that even with your default selections, it’s best to have as many chances as possible at young, ascending, and hungry players. The draft in essence is a lottery. Even a player the Bears could select at No. 3 overall whose seen as a “safe” investment and a superstar for years to come, could bust tremendously.
That’s because there’s no way to project how an amateur will take his ability and translate it to the NFL game, a game of grown men at a dramatically different play speed. As an evaluator, you can watch all of the film on a player you want. You can do all of the homework that comes in medical record checks, personal interviews, and the traits you want to see from each individual position.
In the end, you still don’t how a guy will look as a professional.
You can’t account for how he adjusts to the NFL, for how he takes the intense pressure of a being a world-class athlete and putting his body through consistent punishment. You can be comfortable in minimizing risks at guys who you believe won’t fall victim to pitfalls, but it still happens, even to the “generational” prospects (a term thrown around far too often in sports, let alone football).
So if you’re the current Bears who need a lot of talent in a lot of crucial places on the roster, take away that risk and give yourself a chance at cashing in your lotto ticket by finding a team that wants to get into the top three of the draft. It could net you a bigger haul than you believe.
The more tickets you buy, the better chance you have of cashing in.
This process is how the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots operate. They’re known for routinely trading down and stashing away more draft picks and it’s how they can constantly churn their roster to contend year after year. There’s always a new influx of youth to develop.
It’s how the dynasty of the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990’s was built – through one fell swoop of a trade of a one-time franchise running back in Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings.
Completing that deal netted Dallas three first-round picks, three second-round picks, a third-rounder, and a sixth-rounder over the course of three years. It was the infrastructure of a team that would go on to win three Super Bowls in four seasons. No team will give up that much for a third overall pick, but it’s just another example for the Bears.
In a pure modern hypothetical, let’s say the Cleveland Browns, who currently hold a bounty of draft picks over the next two seasons (11 this year), including the No. 1 and No. 12 overall selections in 2017, want to really solidify themselves in the top three.
They like the transcendent pass rusher in Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who almost everyone believes will be their first pick, but they also like North Carolina quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, and they’re afraid Trubisky will be gone by the time they pick again at 12.
Then, they call around and come to the Bears offering both of their second-round picks (No. 33 and No. 52) as well as No. 12 to slide in at third overall. Do you really think Pace and Chicago hang up the phone? That’s a situation where you hold them on the line until the deal is done, no questions asked.
That kind of haul transforms the Bears into a playoff team next year. It has them evolve into an eventual consistent contender. In the end, it might even result in a championship.
The Bears of the past two seasons have tried to trade up (one time unsuccessfully in 2015, the other netted Leonard Floyd in 2016). On this occasion, if Chicago can even get one more top-40 pick in this year’s draft by moving down while staying close to the top-10 with their first selection, Halas Hall should be popping champagne bottles.
Make no mistake that the opportunity for the Bears to trade down will be there a week from now. There’s a lot of framework moving around behind the scenes. They just have to pull the trigger on an offer they like. And barring something unforeseen, there will be good offers in the wings, so there should be no hesitation.
If you’re Chicago, take advantage of an over-eager team, win by trading down, and there might be some real hope on the horizon on the lakefront.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer for SB Nation and managing editor at No Coast Bias. Follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.