Upon entering the role of the General Manager of the Chicago Bears, Ryan Poles has had a positive impact that many fans have yet to recognize. You may look at the Bears roster heading into the season and think my statement isn’t true as the Bears to not have a roster filled with superstars. While I agree that the Bears aren’t going to make much noise this season, but, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the future of the organization. If you asked me how I felt about the Bears future only four months ago, I would’ve shook my head and cried. If you ask me today how I feel about the future of my beloved Bears, you’ll hear me rave about how we should be excited about how Ryan Poles has positioned the Bears to be dominant for years to come. Ryan Poles transformed the Bears salary cap from having $1.3 million in cap space and an average starting roster age of 25.53 years old, to $93.48 million in cap space and starting average roster age of 23.73 years old. These are massive differences from just one year ago, which begs the question: what actions were made by Poles in order to get to this point?
Clearing Cap Space
Ryan Pace left the Bears in a reasonably ugly situation. He left the Bears with an old, expensive, and mediocre team as a result of trying to grow from the 2018 season. In the 2019 and 2020 offseasons, Pace back loaded contracts on many star players and overpaid for some. Khalil Mack’s contract was set to over $26 million from 2020-2024. Eddie Goldman was supposed to make over $10 million in 2022. Cody Whitehair is going to make $12 million in 2022, $7 million more than he made in 2021. Eddie Jackson is going to make $15 million in 2022. Robert Quinn is going to make $17 million in 2022. These 5 players alone would be taking up over $80 million in cap space which accounts for just under half of the Bears’ available cap space. This is far too much money to pay players who are all aging and most are not worth what they are being paid. Ryan Poles recognized this and knew he had no other option but to let some of these pieces go. Poles would cut Eddie Goldman and Trade Khalil Mack for a 2nd and 6th round draft pick. The Bears will be penalized with $24 million in dead cap space but after this season those two moves clear up nearly $40 million. Poles would also release Tarik Cohen, and Nick Foles, and let Jimmy Graham walk. These decisions will allow the Bears to have more freedom in future free agencies to fill out a more well-rounded roster.
Ryan Poles got a lot of backlash from Bears fans for free agency because he was quiet and didn’t make any flash moves. Ryan Pace not having this conservative attitude is exactly what got the Bears into a horrible position in the first place. The Bears are in no position to compete right now and the last thing they need is to overpay for another aging player. Of course, Ryan Poles has made some moves to fill out the roster but none of which were team-changing moves. Byron Pringle was probably the most valuable signing of the first stretch of free agency but he’s not much more than an agile receiver for Justin Fields to dump it off to. Recently, Poles has signed a couple of offensive linemen for extra protection over Justin Fields. Riley Rieff is the bigger name of the pair of linemen and he will also be important for giving second-year tackle Teven Jenkins some more time to develop as he has had a less than stellar offseason. Ryan Poles may have not set the Bears up to win many games with free agency but he did do enough for Justin Fields to not get killed in his sophomore season while not overpaying for anyone.
The Bears went into the draft night with two second round picks, one third round pick, two fifth round picks, and one sixth round pick. The Bears first two picks, Kyler Gordon (CB) and Jaquan Brisker (S), had many fans very disappointed. This wasn’t because they are bad players, in fact, many fans are excited to see them play. Fans were mad because neither of them was an offensive lineman or wide receiver for Justin Fields. This was a completely justified reason for fans to be upset, but you can’t deny that these picks give the Bears a chance to have one of the most deadly secondaries in the league in a few years. This makes the Bears secondary consist of Jaylon Johnson (23), Thomas Graham Jr. (23), Kyler Gordon (22), Jaquan Brisker (23), and Eddie Jackson (28). Though no one knows if Eddie Jackson will be on the team long-term, the other four are all extremely young and talented. Give this group three-four years and they could potentially be the best secondary in the NFL. In round three, Ryan Poles finally selected a weapon for Justin Fields in Velus Jones Jr. Velus Jones is a very fast and agile player and will 100% be of use to Fields. Many people criticize that this wasn’t a good pick because he’s 25. Yes, he is but so what? The kid has been showing out in training camp and once he adjusts to the NFL, there won’t be many guys that want to guard him. Velus Jones is a great addition to Justin Fields’ arsenal and many people are going to see that this season. Day three of the draft may have been Ryan Poles’ most impressive day as he turned three picks into eight. With these picks the Bears selected four offensive linemen (including two tackles), one edge rusher, one running back, one safety, and one punter. Day three is essentially just a shot in the dark hoping you hit, and Ryan Poles gave himself as many opportunities to hit as possible without giving up any extra picks. As long as one lineman turns out a solid pass protector and one other player turns out well, this is a very successful day three from the Bears new General Manager.
Now that Ryan Poles has established a legit future for the Bears, where does he go from here? Right now, he just sits back and watches. Poles needs to understand what he has and what he needs to work on. An obvious thing to work on next offseason is getting more weapons and protection around Justin Fields. He is the future of the franchise and needs to be treated as such. If the Bears are bad enough and get a high draft pick this year, I think it’s very possible for Ryan Poles to trade a top 3 pick back to a quarterback-hungry team for multiple first-round picks (Lions, Panthers, Buccaneers, etc.) This could allow Poles to get even more young pieces for Matt Eberflus and his coaching staff to develop into players that can help compete for a championship. Poles executed the recovery extremely well, now it’s time for him to use the cap space and youth to his advantage.
Poles didn’t have the perfect offseason. He could’ve got Justin Fields some more help to make his transition between coaches a little smoother but there’s no denying that the Bears are in a better position now than they were a year ago. Poles deserves more credit than he receives for this offseason, but that doesn’t mean he’s a great General Manager either. He’s got a lot more work to do in order to finally bring a consistent contending team back to the Windy City.