Six thoughts after Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles conducted a brief media availability Thursday morning, recapping the trade of the No. 1 overall pick and the team’s initial foray into free agency.
If the Carolina Panthers select a quarterback that becomes a superstar, it will be the player Poles could have had. If another team finds a quarterback later in the draft that reaches the upper echelon — like the Kansas City Chiefs did in 2017 when Patrick Mahomes was the 10th pick and second passer chosen — it will be the player Poles could have had.
Staying the path with Justin Fields and building around him makes sense for Poles and the Bears, and that is why continuing to surround the QB with talent and executing the trade to add wide receiver DJ Moore is easy to understand.
“To add capital this year in the draft as well as the future and set ourselves up with two 1s in ‘24, I couldn’t be happier about that,” Poles said. “But then when you add a player like DJ Moore, who can help us right now get better, continue to add weapons on our team. I was over the moon about that.”
In putting their faith — and resources — in Fields, the Bears are hoping the 2023 season is pivotal in determining the future of the organization. They will have to make a decision on the fifth-year option in his contract next offseason. To do that properly, they’ve got to go to every length possible to give Fields a chance to succeed. It’s that line of thinking that leads me to believe if the draft was now, the Bears would be in the hunt for an offensive tackle with the No. 9 pick. I say that recognizing the depth chart on the defensive line — which includes edge rushers — is barren.
Four relatively high-profile tackles were on the market and signed elsewhere:
- Jawaan Taylor: $80 million, four years with Kansas City Chiefs
- Mike McGlinchey: $87.5 million, five years with Denver Broncos
- Orlando Brown: $64 million, four years with Cincinnati Bengals
- Kaleb McGary: $34.5 million, three years with Atlanta Falcons
One source said the Bears went to roughly $17 million per year in an offer for McGlinchey. McGary had a heart issue as a rookie in Atlanta and that probably limited teams pursuing him. Brown is a good player, but two organizations have allowed him to leave now — the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens — and Poles made reference to the scheme fit for a bigger guy who doesn’t have the athletic traits for the team’s wide-zone running scheme.
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“I will stick to this: it comes down to value and where we felt comfortable with our research, our evaluations, analytics, all of that,” Poles said about not signing one of the top tackles. “There was a certain point where we were comfortable with based on the value and the evaluation that we had. And if it surpassed that, we were OK with moving on.”
It’s easy to say that with an overabundance of cap space, the Bears should have done whatever necessary to sign one of those tackles. Taylor could potentially play left tackle in Kansas City. If he sticks on the right side, he will be the highest-paid right tackle in the league. The McGlinchey deal makes him the fifth-highest paid right tackle in the league. He’s a good player and would have been a good fit with the Bears. The Broncos guaranteed the 28-year-old $52.5 million, and so it’s understandable if Poles didn’t see Taylor or McGlinchey providing value. A need remains a need, however.
There are a collection of offensive linemen the Bears could consider at No. 9, including Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson and Georgia’s Broderick Jones. It’s a spot where Poles could trade back a few slots — if he has a buyer — and still get a tackle. A trade back to snag an offensive lineman would provide the Bears with more draft capital to invest in the defensive line too — and it’s a deep draft when it comes to edge rushers, which is a critical need for the team.
The only thing that could shift the thinking is if the Bears had a superior grade on a front seven player and believe he’s a much better player than a potentially available offensive lineman. In that instance, Poles could go with help for the front seven and circle back for a right tackle option, but that might not produce a long-term solution. If the Bears get a rookie right tackle and Braxton Jones makes strides at left tackle, having two starting tackles on cost-controlled contracts would be a plus for the immediate future.
Carter will be crisscrossing the country because any team considering drafting him will want face time with the defensive lineman to get answers to many character questions raised.
Carter entered no contest pleas Thursday morning to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing, his attorney announced. He was sentenced to 12 months probation and 80 hours of community service. Carter must complete a driving course and was fined $1,000.
He was issued arrest warrants during the NFL combine for the incident, which involved the Jan. 15 crash that claimed the lives of Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and Bulldogs recruiting assistant Chandler LeCroy. More serious charges will not be forthcoming for Carter, who met with the Bears in Indianapolis before the warrants were issued and did not mention the incident to the team.
Carter had a poor showing at the Georgia pro day on Wednesday, which GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus attended. He weighed in at 323 pounds — nine pounds heavier than he was in Indianapolis — and could not complete position drills as he was reportedly cramping and short of breath. Carter looked out of shape in the College Football Playoffnational semifinal, logging one tackle in 52 snaps in a victory over Ohio State.
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When I texted with a veteran pro scout Monday after the Bears had agreed to terms with linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, the topic turned to getting top play out of that position with a defensive line that is undermanned.
“Jalen Carter may be staring them in the face at No. 9,” the scout wrote.
That’s certainly a possibility, with Carter an ideal three-technique who can take over games when he’s at his best. There are enough questions surrounding Carter to believe his draft stock has taken a hit. He’s going to need to convince teams he was playing through injuries late in the season and can be committed to being in NFL shape.
The Bears are still in the fact-finding phase and eventually will need to use that to complete an informed opinion on what Carter will be like as a pro. It’s fair to say Carter had a lot of questions about him when the college season ended — and he’s got much more to answer for now.
I think Walker, who is joining his fourth team in four seasons, is viewed as a left end in Matt Eberflus’ defense right now. He’s been a spot starter, mostly a backup throughout his career, so there is projection involved with a guy who will turn 29 in September and notched seven of the 19 1/2 sacks in his career last season. The majority of Walker’s production for the Tennessee Titans came when he was lined up on the interior, so he’s got versatility to be moved around, but the Bears need a left end to replace Al-Quadin Muhammad, a free agent from last year who fizzled.
I asked Ryan Poles how much better the team can get on the defensive line, pointing out how a thin unit it is right now.
“Yeah, no doubt about it,” he said. “I know right now you get the sense that we gotta fix everything and the options are going to be limited, but I feel comfortable between the rest of free agency — we’re only two days into it — as well as in the draft that we can get that group as good as we possibly can.”
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To that point, a few hours after Poles spoke, the team signed Billings, a nose tackle who started for the Las Vegas Raiders last season, to a one-year contract worth $3.5 million. Billings isn’t flashy by any means, but he’s got experience and provides a modest improvement at the one technique.
“At the same time, there are going to be some weak spots on our roster that we can’t fix everything, but we are going to stay flexible to do the best we can to get better,” Poles said. “And then, again, you go from a short-term thinking of we gotta do everything right now, you extend that out and do things the right way, over time we’ll be able to heal up all of those positions.”
There might not be any long-term fixes remaining on the open market. Dre’Mont Jones signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Zach Allen joined the Broncos. My hunch is the Bears have a move or two before supplementing the group via the draft. As I said above, it’s a strong draft for edge rushers.
A’Shawn Robinson, Greg Gaines and Matt Ioannidis loom as potential nose tackle options if the Bears want to double down, but that seems unlikely now. Bud Dupree has struggled to remain healthy, but he’s a potential edge defender.
Credit Poles with transparency. Without telling you, he told you the rebuilding project is a three-year process. The Bears are going to need next offseason — both free agency and the draft, where they have Carolina’s first-round pick — to stock the depth chart the way they want. There are going to be positions that are “weak spots,” and it’s hard to imagine the defensive line being a strength in 2023.
I write that believing wide receiver DJ Moore and weakside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds can make major impacts for seasons to come.
Ryan Poles needs to get an upper-tier starter with the No. 9 pick and then he’s in position with three picks that are effectively at the end of Round 2. The Bears are selecting 53rd overall (from Baltimore), 61st (from Carolina via San Francisco) and 64th (the first pick of Round 3), with each pick one slot ahead of where it should be because the Miami Dolphins forfeited their first-round pick.
A director of player personnel for another team said his club has done exhaustive research on not just the profile of each round, but the profile of every pick. What can you expect to get at No. 53? No. 61? No. 64? It varies widely yearly and team-to-team, but with a ton of largely subjective data (how good was the player in his NFL career?), you get an idea of what each slot can provide.
I’m sure every team does background research along these lines, a useful tool when preparing for the draft annually. What are the percentages with players at the end of Round 2?
“Not in the first year but overall projection of the player, basically you’re looking at a 30% chance of getting an elite player there,” the personnel director said. “It’s 60% you get a good player that fills a need, think about someone like maybe a David Montgomery. Good player. Filled a need.”
That’s a very general overview of the type of odds the Bears have with those picks. Maybe they pick there. Maybe Poles is active in the trade market — and certainly with a cluster of picks, he’s armed to move up, something that would be easier if he trades down at No. 9.
“That’s where we sit right now (with the three picks between 53 and 64),” Poles said. “There might be some things we can do to maybe move around. But there’s going to be good players in that range. So as you know from the first draft with me, we did a lot of movement back, but maybe there’s some movement back and then going the other way too.”
Smith eventually got the figure he was seeking from the Ravens, and now the Bears have a new weakside linebacker, an important cog in Matt Eberflus’ defense.
“I’m not going to compare the two,” Ryan Poles said. “But I think (Edmunds) can be very productive in this system.”
My opinion is the Bears view Edmunds as a potential upgrade over Smith. One of the things Eberflus referenced when he got into a conversation about star linebacker Shaq Leonard he coached in Indianapolis and Smith was on-ball production. Leonard had much better statistics in a lot of those categories — and that’s not meant as a knock on Smith. The Bears wanted to sign Smith to an extension and believed he could excel in their defense. They might have gotten a deal done at $18 million per season; they just didn’t want to go to $20 million. Now they’ve paid to replace one of the few elite players they had on the roster when the current regime came in.
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Edmunds had less on-ball production last season in Buffalo than Smith — one sack, three quarterback hits, seven passes deflected and one interception to go with six tackles for loss. I believe the Bears feel Edmunds’ unique frame — he’s 6-foot-5, 250 pounds with 34 1/2-inch arms — and speed (4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine) make him an ascending player in their defense, a guy that can be more statistically productive in the Bears’ scheme. Poles echoed that sentiment.
“The length, the speed, the coverage ability in terms of just the space that he covers and Matt and his group think they can take him over the edge with some of the ball production,” Poles said.
It remains to be seen what Edmunds does for the Bears, but for him to be a “value,” he’s going to need to play at a Pro Bowl level. Sounds like the Bears believe that is achievable.
They will replace Sam Mustipher at center after not tendering him as a restricted free agent. Nate Davis, signed to a $30 million, three-year contract, is a career guard with athleticism that makes him a potential fit at left guard. Ryan Poles didn’t want to commit to that and talked about competition, adding Cody Whitehair could be an option at center.
“I’ll stick to this, we’re going to put the best front five up there but I also think there’s some flexibility and some conversations where Cody could work some center,” Poles said. “He’s got almost 4,000 snaps there. Had some good seasons there. So, we’re going to move it around a little bit and see if we can get the best front three possible.”
The Bears didn’t sign Davis without having an initial idea of what they would do with him, they’re just not revealing it yet. There were some rumblings at the combine that Whitehair could potentially be released by the Bears. That’s unlikely to happen unless he’s replaced, and if they are earmarking him as a potential center, that won’t happen right now.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Bears draft a center. Maybe then Whitehair and a rookie compete for the job — Whitehair plays while the rookie develops. Doug Kramer remains in the mix too. If I was putting together a depth chart right now, Davis would be at left guard and Teven Jenkins at right guard. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Jenkins gets a run at right tackle, but I sort of doubt that is Plan A at this point.
The Bears had a lot of competition up front in 2022 to the point they had players rotate in during regular-season games. That’s not ideal. I think the preference this year would be to find a starting five early in preseason and go from there.
The competition should start in the spring and carry over to training camp. The team needs to get a lot better up front.