Ryan Pace is now a senior personnel executive in Atlanta, and the importance of connections once again becomes apparent. Pace worked with Terry Fontenot in New Orleans for a long time and there’s no doubt Atlanta’s general manager wanted him to join the Falcons because he has a high opinion of his player evaluation acumen.
Whether that’s justified is up for debate—Pace was behind the utterly disastrous Mitch Trubisky pick, the Matt Nagy hire, and a lot of bad draft choices over the years even if he did nail a handful of free agent signings and a fair number of late round picks—but it’s clear that this front office will value Pace’s opinion. It’s worth wondering how much they’ll value what he thinks of some of his former draft picks and free agent signings who are free agents this year, because there are some capable players Pace will be very familiar with who will be available.
Let’s see who Pace overlapped with during his long stint in Chicago. There will, of course, be a little bit of overlap with this list of soon-to-be-ex-Bears Dave Ragone and Charles London might be pushing for.
G James Daniels
Here’s what I wrote about Daniels in January:
Set to be just 25 in 2022, Daniels has been a full-time starter the past three seasons, though injury wiped out most of his 2020. He got a very good 71.8 grade from Pro Football Focus this past year, and that grade is backed up by his performances at left guard, center and right guard during his time in Chicago. He could be an upgrade at left guard or center if the team signed him, though I’d lean toward a guard position that has been one of the team’s most persistent liabilities of late.
Pace was the general manager in Chicago when Daniels was drafted and both London and Ragone have seen him up-close, meaning they understand his strengths very well. If there’s a home-run signing to be made to bolster either left guard or center, he’s it, and if the Falcons are willing to make a splash there aren’t many players I’d put ahead of Daniels on the list.
WR Allen Robinson
I’ll repeat what I wrote a month ago, because again, nothing’s really changed:
Robinson is a terrific wide receiver who has frequently been burdened with bad quarterbacks, lackluster offenses, or both. Heading into his age 29 season, he’s still one of the most sure-handed targets in the league and a player capable of vacuuming up targets, which would make him appealing as a volume option and someone who could take pressure off Kyle Pitts and (if he’s still in Atlanta) Calvin Ridley. If the Falcons want to put their cash toward upgrading Matt Ryan’s playmakers, they could do a lot worse (and probably can’t do much better than) Robinson.
Pace brought Robinson to Chicago, and he’s done little but deliver since he arrived. Cost would seemingly be the chief obstacle to a deal here, but I’m sure Pace would love to bring him to Atlanta as much as Matt Ryan would love throwing to him.
DL Akiem Hicks
Pace likely would’ve been involved in bringing Hicks to New Orleans way back in 2012, was certainly involved in bringing him to Chicago in 2016, and may well be interested in having him help bolster a lackluster Falcons defensive line in 2022.
Hicks has missed 20 games over his past three seasons and is getting up there in age, but he remains a forced to be reckoned with as a pass rusher and run stopper and would be a huge upgrade for Atlanta, even if he only spends a year or two here. Price will again be a sticking point for a deal here, but Hicks is a name to watch given his ties to Pace and the Falcons’ need for more help up front.
OL Germain Ifedi
Brought in to bolster Chicago’s offensive line in 2020, Ifedi has played both tackle and guard and could be an option to compete with Kaleb McGary at right tackle this season. After a pretty brutal start to his career in Seattle, he’s turned into a consistently solid player and at the very worst would be useful, versatile depth for a line that needs that. I’d like his chances of pushing past McGary if he joined up.
DL Bilal Nichols
If Hicks is on the downslope of a long and distinguished career, Nichols is headed for his first big payday and several more years of strong play. The 25 year old was an absolute stud in 2020 and very good in 2021 for the Bears, playing about 60% of the defensive snaps over the past two seasons, putting up a combined 8 sacks and holding his own as a run-stopper. Nichols would be a long-term investment for a defensive line that we’ve established is in need of help, and I’d expect Pace to offer a glowing review of his former fifth round pick if anybody in the Falcons front office is interested in asking him about Nichols.
QB Mitch Trubisky
I knew you were waiting for this one.
Pace’s decision to draft Trubisky ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson—second overall, in fact!—was one of the biggest mistakes of his tenure and something that made the Bears front office look deeply foolish. It’s one of the best reasons to doubt his judgement is sound enough for him to be in a decision-making role in Atlanta, to be frank, and it set up a slow-motion fall from grace for Pace in Chicago.
That said, Trubisky isn’t a bad quarterback, just one who never should’ve gone second overall. The physical tools are all there and he’s had flashes of excellence, and if nothing else he drew praise for his work as Josh Allen’s backup from pretty much everybody you can think of on the Buffalo Bills. If the Falcons are looking for a veteran backup who has a live arm, some scrambling ability and can be vouched for by a certain ex-Bears GM who once believed in him enough to take an incredibly foolish swing on him at the top of an NFL Draft, Trubisky may well wind up in Atlanta.