Balancing the future against the present always weighs heavily on the minds of NFL personnel bosses, or at least it should.
As the start of training camp approaches and with all the scrutiny of rosters going on, it's become apparent Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has tipped the franchise too far toward winning now at risk of rendering the future barren.
In most cases, the imbalance results either directly or indirectly from too many draft day mistakes.
This mistake leads to action taken to cover up for the errors, and in turn results in more of an imbalance.
The classic example everyone knows is giving away two third-round pick and a fourth-rounder for the right to move up one space and take Mitchell Trubisky.
Their solution: Trade away a fourth-round pick to bring in Nick Foles. They get a quarterback in his 30s and at the same time lose a fourth-round pick for the future. They pay out a lot of cap money they could have saved by hitting on a drafted quarterback who plays five years before needing and expensive contract extension.
The situation facing the Bears is fixable.
Here's how Pace has struggled to keep the balance between the future and present and how he can fix the situation.
Eternal Quarterback Problem
The Bears need to start drafting quarterbacks. Many of their issues would be resolved if they get this position solved with a young starting passer. Getting two would be better.
There is no other position where a franchise's future is more directly addressed than quarterback. QBs lead the team into the future. Succession and stability are easily established through the position.
The clear example is Brett Favre with Aaron Rodgers on hand and now Jordan Love drafted with Rodgers at quarterback. It's Tom Brady with Jimmy Garoppolo as the understudy and even Jacoby Brissett on board.
The Bears have never even had a quarterback let alone an order of succession at the position.
When you don't have this type of situation you're free agent shopping and trading and costing yourself future draft picks, talent and even money which lets a team bring in more talent.
Surprisingly, Pace ignores this position more than most teams. In the last three drafts since 2017 when the Bears selected Trubisky 27 other teams have drafted quarterbacks and 10 of those drafted two quarterbacks. The only quarterback the Bears have taken since Pace became GM in 2015 was Trubisky.
When Pace became GM in 2015 he said ideally he wanted to draft a quarterback every year. They failed again to draft one this year.
"That's how the board fell but we do have confidence in our quarterbacks, you know, from Mitch to Nick and to Tyler Bray, we have confidence in our quarterbacks," Pace said. "And we're looking forward to that. But I think the board fell a certain way. We have to be disciplined with it and that's just the way it played out."
It didn't play out well in 2017 either, but Pace didn't seem to mind trading away two third-rounders and a fourth rounder just to move up for Trubisky.
The future was again sacrificed for the present when they tried fixing this problem. They dealt away a fourth-round pick for Foles.
Opportunities for the Bears haven't been abundant to build their quarterback room, but Pace could have taken Jarrett Stidham, who might start for New England depending on how fast Cam Newton picks up Josh McDaniel's offense. Instead, he drafted linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who has played 26 snaps on defense in two years.
Pace could have traded down and drafted Gardner Minshew, but felt the need to take receiver Riley Ridley just one year after they picked receiver Javon Wims from the same school.
The Mack Trade
There is no question the Bears traded away the future to acquire a dominant pass rusher. There's no other way to describe giving up two first-rounders and a third-rounder.
It was worthwhile, because Mack did transform their defense from formidable to among the league's best.
Once again the reason they needed a pass rusher so badly was they failed to draft one. Leonard Floyd turned out to be a nice all-around outside linebacker but not a pass rusher.
They needed to make a move. It's a trade off, but it's more a case of covering their own inefficiency at drafting a pass rusher by giving away the future.
Draft Day Trades
Pace and scouts too often become fixated on specific players and feel the need to trade away draft picks to get them, thereby surrendering their future when it's entirely possible other quality options are available without trading away picks.
Trubisky isn't the only example of it. This past draft they decided they had to have Trevis Gipson, a Tulsa edge rusher who lined up as more of a 5-technique in college than at outside linebacker where the Bears have tabbed him to play.
So Pace traded away a fourth-round pick next year to make this pick in the fifth round in 2020.
It's a blatant example of dealing away the future.
They traded away picks to move up and take both Floyd and David Montgomery. It's not so much the selection of Montgomery or Floyd that hurt. In Montgomery's case it could still turn out to be a wise selection.
What does hurt is giving up the extra pick or picks, which could be a possible starter.
Trading up can work, and has at times. Anthony Miller, Eddie Jackson and Nick Kwiatkoski were obtained in trades when the Bears traded up. Yet, they gave up future picks to do it.
The Credit Card
When draft picks fail, they turn to the credit card. They turn to free agency.
The Bears have done like many other teams and found cap space for signing free agents or their own players by borrowing against their future. They restructure contracts of players, then prorate bonuses far into the future to save space needed to sign free agents.
Their future takes another hit with all of their financial maneuvering, although logically this should be wise to do because the salary cap always does seem to go up.
According to Spotrac.com, they could be paying out dead cap money for Robert Quinn to the tune of $18.6 million over three years until 2025 if he's gone by 2022.
They are paying out restructuring bonuses to four players after this season. Although these bonuses are not huge chunks—Khalil Mack's is $2.6 million. In all, it adds up to $5.4 million in restructure bonuses.
They have used dummy years at the end of contracts as a way to float bonus payments out against the cap and save cash. Danny Trevathan and Kyle Fuller have years with no salaries at the end of their contract for the purpose of making the bonus easier to absorb, Fuller for $3 million and two years after his salary stops and Trevathan three years and $6 1/2 million.
This maneuvering normally might be considered shrewd, but the coronavirus could take a major bite out of next year's league revenue, which determines size of the salary cap. The cap could drastically drop.
If it does, then where has all of this maneuvering to alter your cap costs gotten them?
It's that simple. And if they can't, then get someone who can.
The Bears can solve all their problems by being sharper at identifying picks and making them instead of dashing all over the draft board to cough up possible future starters in the form of draft picks so they can select one player they have their eyes on.
The Bears sat still and picked in Round 2 this past draft. They should try it a few more times. They might like it.
A team can only sign so many free agents, squander so many picks on questionable talent and trade away so many future picks until the burden becomes too great.
Then the penalty for a franchise is several years of operating with a talent deficit, if not an entire decade.