Close your eyes and imagine it with me: We redrafted the 2017 NFL Draft the other day, and the NFL is a whole different world. As JJ Stankevitz writes, the Bears draft Myles Garrett with the third overall pick, effectively taking them out of the Khalil Mack sweepstakes. Adam Hoge put Mitch Trubisky on the Chiefs, so the Bears go into 2017 with Mike Glennon and a mid-round quarterback – and let's give a random name, like C.J. Beathard – backing him up. If it sounds bleak, that's only because it is. But little do the Bears know at the time, it ends up being the right longterm play. A bit of hindsight does wonders for Ryan Pace and co. because these three things happen:
With a redone fourth overall pick, the Jaguars take tight end George Kittle. He's very good! Like, right away. Kittle fills the void in the offense from losing Allen Robinson to a torn ACL, caching 43 balls for 515 yards and two touchdowns (his actual stats). He ends the season third in team receiving yards behind only Keelan Cole (748) and Marqise Lee (704). Alongside a 1,000-yard season from Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars manage to outscore the Patriots in the AFC Championship and make a Super Bowl appearance. Kittle, NFL Twitter's darling all season long, becomes a household name in his first season thanks to a week of charming Super Bowl media appearances. The Bears go 5-11 and fire John Fox.
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But now it's 2018, and the Bears – brimming with optimism after hiring new coach Matt Nagy – are in an envious spot. They have cap space, the eighth overall pick in a QB-heavy draft and a young pass-rushing duo (on rookie contracts) with absurdly high potential. Ryan Pace's meeting with Baker Mayfield reportedly went well (remember, the Browns drafted Pat Mahomes in this Very Fake world), but the Giants love how his personal brand would play in New York and take him first overall. Much to the dismay of Bears fans, Pace sits at eight and lets Josh Rosen fall into his lap, at least according to Mel Kiper. Rosen's play is up and down, but the Bears' defense is young and fast, and turns the ball over a lot.
In Jacksonville, Blake Bortles returns to Earth, and the Jaguars lose 11 games. Bortles is benched, and rumors surface that Kittle is unhappy with how many times he's been fined by Tom Coughlin. Owner Shad Khan fires Coughlin, but the damage is done.
2019 is, um, a step back for the Bears, and after an 8-8 season, they badly need help at tight end. Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen barely see the field, and when they do, it's not particularly impactful. Questions about Rosen's ability to master coverages are everywhere. The free agent market is bleak, though there are rumors that Jimmy Graham's got a few bidders. The Jaguars, if you can believe it, were bad for a second straight season, and Kittle – now a two-time Pro Bowler – has made it clear that he won't re-sign. A Jacksonville front office that's alredy in full rebuild is fine with that.
Looking for relief from his own hot seat, Ryan Pace goes for it. Only a few days after Kittle and Allen Robinson trade cryptic Instagram comments, the move is announced: The Bears traded their 2020 first-round pick (19), their 2021 first-round pick, and a 2021 third-round pick for Kittle, who's agreed to forego free agency in 2021 and sign a record setting four-year, $50 million extension. Matt Nagy finally got the tight end he's always wanted.
Now all that stands between the Bears and championship contention are quarterback concerns. This had to be a little realistic.