Bears general manager Ryan Poles didn’t exactly recoil when asked Tuesday whether he was rebuilding. But he pursed his lips and glanced to the sky for a second.
“The ‘rebuild’ thing is, like, super-sensitive,” he said.
The Bears know fans don’t want to hear the word. The team won’t use it, either. But it’s clear that, in his first few months on the job, Poles has taken the long view in trying to reshape a roster that was in tatters when he took over for Ryan Pace.
Poles traded Khalil Mack, the face of the franchise, to the Chargers for a second-round pick and let receiver Allen Robinson leave via free agency. Akiem Hicks, James Daniels, Jakeem Grant, Eddie Goldman and Danny Trevathan are gone. In their place, Poles signed only four players to free-agent contracts of more than one season.
The Bears are paying $45.1 million in dead cap charges in 2022, third-most in the league. And that number — what the Bears contribute to the salary cap for players not on their team — could still go up.
Poles prefers to describe the Bears’ roster renovation like the home improvement shows he watches with his wife late at night. Think Chip and Joanna, not a wrecking ball.
“You might have to redo some countertops over here, some fresh paint over there,” he said. “Some rooms are good. You don’t need to touch them. So that’s kind of the thought process there. That’s not a rebuild.”
So if Poles doesn’t like the word “rebuilding,” how would he describe what the Bears are doing?
“We’re constructing a very good football team,” he said. “Regardless [of] how you use whatever term that is, we just continue to add talent. And young talent, older talent, whatever it takes to make the best team possible.”
Now that Poles has taken a sledgehammer to the Bears’ problem areas, he gets his first major chance to add young talent during this week’s NFL draft. The Bears don’t have a pick in the first round Thursday, but they have they have three Friday — two in Round 2 and one in Round 3.
Poles is unlikely to trade up during the draft, but remains open to moving back in the second and third rounds to acquire more picks–if an offer met the Bears’ needs.
“Where is that pick located in the draft?” he said. “And can I still get a quality player at that level as well? Also, you can accumulate on the back end and package things up and move them again. So really it’s just the volume and where the draft is deep at certain positions.”
It’s certainly deep at receiver and offensive line, the positions where the Bears need the most help. There are veteran receivers available, too — the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel has requested a trade, and the team that acquires him would be expected to pay him like one of the league’s top pass-catchers before he plays a down.
Poles admitted that dealing for any veteran receiver is “always intriguing,” but said he’d rather stay disciplined, both in terms of protecting his future draft picks and the Bears’ salary cap space. As of now, the Bears’ are projected to have the most cap space in the NFL in 2023.
Don’t expect him to make a splash trade for a pass-catcher, then.
“It will benefit us to make sure we draft well and develop our own guys,” Poles said.
The Bears will pour all they can into developing quarterback Justin Fields, for whom Pace traded the Bears’ 2021 and 2022 first-round picks. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Poles said the Bears conducted a historical look at quarterbacks who made second-year leaps and found they had one receiver they trusted when times got tough. The Bears then signed Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown to one-year deals — neither figures to be the security blanket that Fields needs.
Tuesday, Poles tried to walk back what was interpreted as a mandate to find Fields help– or at least tried expand the notion of what that means.
“You could say he needs receivers, receivers, receivers,” he said. “But he needs blocking, too, and he also needs balance in terms of running the ball efficiently and getting that done up front and then you can do some play action pass stuff, then you can do different things. Turnovers. Maybe a returner to flip the field to score more points. So it’s all connected.
“That’s really why the mindset is to get the best players on this team as possible. If I get too lopsided and be like, ‘I’ve got to do this specific thing,’ I think that’s where you lead into big mistakes.”
The Bears figure to draft a receiver to help Fields, whether Poles will say it out loud or not. But they need major draft-day help at offensive lineand cornerback, too –and some at safety and defensive line, too.
Hammer in hand, they still have a lot of work to do.
“Every draft is important,” Poles said. “Any time you can bring in new, young talent that can create competition and help get better … And obviously with the way free agency is, you get a rookie contract, you get a little bit of time to keep tweaking things and improve.”