Inside Bears GM Ryan Poles’ flurry of draft-day deals

After meeting late into the night with his staff Friday, Bears general manager Ryan Poles fell asleep in the surprisingly comfortable spare bedroom on the second floor of Halas Hall.

When he woke up a few hours later, he knew he was going to trade back in Saturday’s draft. He just didn’t know how many times.

Poles figured he’d know when to stop– and he did eventually, but only after a flurry of deals that almost tripled the Bears’ number of Day 3 draft picks. Poles woke up with three selections Saturdayand finished with eight. More than a quarter of all the trades made in the NFL on Saturday — four of 15 — were made by the Bears’ first-year general manager.

The Bears had land-line phones ringing and text messages pinging and a sheet of phone numbers with contracts by other teams. In Round 5, their draft room was a cacophony of rings and beeps and buzzes.

“Fast and furious,” area scout Breck Ackley said. “It kinda was a little ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ there for a minute when the trade calls were coming in.”

The scouts on the side of the Bears’ draft room had more nerves than the man in charge, Ackley said. Poles figures it’s what coach Matt Eberflus feels like during a game: calm and focused.

“The energy is good and no one’s panicking,” Poles said. “We’re communicating at a high level with each other. And it worked out perfectly, I thought.”

Former GM Ryan Pace’s career was sunk by bold draft-day moves that failed. Stuck with only five 2021 picks because of Pace’s aggressiveness, Poles proved in his first draft he’s capable of creativity, even on the margins.

He had the roster space to pull it off; only four NFL teams have fewer players under contract than the Bears. He was also playing the math; making more picks increased the chances he’d find a keeper. This year’s draft was deep –players had more experience after taking a free season of eligibility because of the coronavirus.

The Bears won’t be Super Bowl contenders in 2022, so drafting developmental players makes sense for them. The rest of the league saw that.

“I can’t tell you how many times the phone rang,” Poles said. “But it was a lot.”

Poles made the day’s first deal, sending the Chargers their original 2023 sixth-round pick — they’d traded it to the Bears in the Khalil Mack deal — for two 2022 seventh-round picks, No.s 254 and 255.

He moved the Bears’ first pick on Saturday, No. 148 overall in Round 5. To climb up 20 spots, the Bills sent Poles a sixth-rounder, No. 203. The Bears traded Pick 150; the Texans gave the Bears a sixth-rounder, No. 207, to move up 16 spots in Round 5.

Poles then traded a fifth-round pick, No. 166; the Bengals gave the Bears a seventh-rounder, No. 226, to move up eight slots.

Eventually, Poles stopped when the Bears’ draft database, fueled by months of work, showed there wasn’t enough depth to keep dealing.

“It really was based off the number of players in certain ranges,” Poles said. “And then when you felt like the number was getting low it was time to kind of cut it out and start picking players.”

When he did, he landed four offensive linemen (Southern Utah’s Braxton Jones, San Diego State’s Zach Thomas, Illinois’ Doug Kramer and Southern’s Ja’Tyre Carter), Baylor running back Trestan Ebner, Miami (Ohio) edge rusher Dominique Robinson, Cal safety Elijah Hicks and N.C. State punter Trenton Gill.

Saturday morning, Poles asked his scouts to walk in front of the team’s draft board and scribble down three players they were convinced were good picks.

No one knew then they’d have a chance to pick eight.

“We ended up with a majority of them,” he said. “Anytime someone has conviction about something it means something, they’ve spent a lot of time, there’s no waver. That was important.”

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