CHICAGO — For the first time since Ryan Pace arrived in 2015 to run the Bears, he will start the NFL draft knowing nothing will change about his team's direction by the end of it.
Not many general managers can say that heading into the three-day extravaganza in Nashville, Tenn., a process that offers more hope than the corniest country music song. But Pace can do so with conviction, comforted by what the Bears consider one of the league's most complete rosters.
The Bears don't pick until the third round Friday -- 87th overall -- and have only five selections because of last summer's blockbuster trade for pass rusher Khalil Mack. Nobody dares to complain about not being able to improve through the draft in 2019, not after Mack's arrival made the Bears instant contenders. Pace could strain a muscle this week reaching for the most obscure draft picks, and the Bears still would report to Bourbonnais in July feeling better about the team than when their 12-4 season finished with a double doink.
In other words, avoid overstating the significance of whomever the Bears draft. From Lake Forest to Las Vegas, chances are none of the new players will dramatically alter the outlook for 2019. This is the way it should be in a football city.
Pace has put the Bears in the enviable position of needing nothing but depth, a reality that makes predicting the player or position a fool's errand, no matter how fun the exercise. The right pick for Pace will be the one rated highest on the Bears' draft board when they finally go on the clock, even if the prospect plays a position already manned by a starter.
Finally, the Bears can follow that rule under Pace. They really couldn't in any of his first four drafts, when they picked in the top 10 each year. Come to think of it, the Bears needed everything entering those drafts, but their picks reflected the positions most desperate for attention.
They needed a big-play wide receiver when Pace swung and missed on Kevin White at No. 7 in 2015. They needed a pass rusher when Pace aggressively traded up to No. 9 in 2016 to take Leonard Floyd, who still can develop into a force opposite Mack. They needed to go big after a quarterback in 2017, when Pace boldly moved up to No. 2 for the right to select Mitch Trubisky -- even if he did take Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. And they needed a plug-and-play inside linebacker last year when they nabbed rising star Roquan Smith at No. 8.
To say the Bears have needs they must fill in the 2019 draft would be like saying Chicago needs another pizzeria. Pace shrewdly addressed the roster's biggest weaknesses in free agency, upgrading at safety and nickel back. With due respect to departed starter Adrian Amos, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix improves the secondary's playmaking ability. As for new nickel Buster Skrine, his durability makes him more dependable than predecessor Bryce Callahan.
Pace gave running back Mike Davis a two-year, $6 million contract because he increases the offense's versatility, but Tarik Cohen remains the biggest threat in the backfield. Dangerous return man Cordarrelle Patterson, another toy for coach Matt Nagy, gave the Bears one fewer thing to worry about finding in the draft.
They have picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds and two in the seventh. The seventh-round choices likely never will be more popular than Saturday, when fans will Google their names incessantly. The Bears can spend one seventh-rounder on a kicker if they wish, but they already have a three-man competition -- and, practically speaking, only two kickers should compete at training camp.
The three middle-round selections stand a chance of contributing on Sundays for a team legitimately thinking Super Bowl.
The Bears traded Jordan Howard to the Eagles, but they were likely to add a rookie running back with or without Howard. For whatever reason, Nagy never appreciated Howard's straightforward running style as much as some people in the league do, and his departure shows how much the Bears prioritize scheme over skill.
Iowa State running back David Montgomery fits, though he might be gone by the 87th pick. Mid-round projection Darrell Henderson of Memphis offers explosiveness ideal for any offense. Oklahoma State's Justice Hill is good enough to make a scout stand on the table for him. The Bears would be fortunate to add Dexter Williams of Notre Dame, my favorite among the running backs projected to go in the middle rounds, to complement Davis and Cohen.
But if a cornerback or safety with a first- or second-round grade slips into the third or fourth round, so be it, and the Bears should seize the opportunity. Maybe a highly productive pass rusher falls into their hands. No defense -- not even one with Mack -- ever has enough quality pass rushers or cornerbacks. As long as the Bears make responsible decisions regarding health or character concerns, every position group should be under consideration before each of their picks -- even quarterback. What if one of the quarterbacks expected to go late in the first round falls into the third? Trade down? Take him?
Stranger things have happened in the NFL draft. Or, more accurately, strange things always happen in the NFL draft.
The draft annually promises oddity. It exposes urgency. And this April for the Bears, it reveals a new normalcy at Halas Hall that was a long time coming.