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Ryan Poles did the thing
The Bears were handed a winning lottery ticket and successfully cashed it in
For basically all of my life the Bears have been one of the sad, quarterbackless, desperate teams in the NFL. There was a brief respite whenever Jim McMahon was healthy enough to put all of his pads on by himself, a few years where we deluded ourselves with the promise of Jay Cutler’s outsized but seldom harnessed quarterbacking talents, and one fleeting Erik Kramer year.
The rest of the time we’ve been standing outside with our noses pressed to the window looking at other teams who experience how much easier things are when you have a guy at quarterback.
We want so badly to live in that world. It looks like so much more fun. And honestly, it also makes things so much easier to build the rest of a team.
More than any position in any other team sport, the quarterback in football tilts the table.
And from the moment George McCaskey finally reared back and kicked the Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy regime out of the door (I’m sure he was very apologetic while he did it) there has been a lot of consternation about whether the new guys were sold on Justin Fields.
Last offseason they did nearly nothing to make life easier for him. Unless you are really sold on Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, Michael Schofield and Reilly Reiff.
And that, we were told, was telling. They didn’t have faith in Fields. He wasn’t their guy. They didn’t draft him. Every GM and coach want to pick their own guy.
Blah, blah, blah.
The reality was that Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus inherited a bad salary cap situation and had a dearth of draft picks to use in 2022.
The best way forward was to clear out the roster to create cap room and to not try to package future draft picks to get one or two more in 2022. Basically, stop mortgaging the future so you could actually have a future.
And they did that and it was rough.
Far more talent went out the door than came back through it. Even if it was older, more expensive talent, it left the Bears with a CFL roster while playing in the NFL.
It didn’t help that they couldn’t come to terms with their one, young difference making defensive player, and ended up throwing Roquan Smith onto the pile of veteran player refuse.
But a funny thing happened during a year when the Bears fielded a roster that was devoid of talent even when compared to other bad past Bears rosters.
One guy still made the games fun.
No, not Cairo Santos.
Their other star.
The 2022 Bears will be remembered for two things. Being bad, and us not giving a shit because we were too busy watching Justin Fields make other teams shit their pants.
And, when the third best coach in Bears history got pissed off at his new team and went HAM on the final game of the regular season for the Houston Texans, the Bears found themselves with the best possible situation.
They had the number one pick and they didn’t need to use it on a quarterback because they already have one.
And we had to endure a couple of months of morons like Mike Tannenbaum and Michael Lombardi blathering on about how the Bears should trade Fields and pick a QB at number one so they could “reset their clock” and whatever.
Poles made Bears fans nervous by doing his job. He refused to come flat out and say he wouldn’t trade Fields because why give away your leverage just to assuage some nervous fans for a few weeks?
Then as he started to get a handle on the market for the number one pick he ended the charade and openly talked about trading the pick, not his 24 year old athletic marvel QB. He said he wanted to do it sooner rather than later so that he knew what he had before free agency opens this week.
Poles said “he knew” he could trade the pick for a 2023, 2024 and 2025 first rounder. People scoffed.
And in the end, the scoffers turned out to be right.
But only technically. Because Poles didn’t get a 2025 first rounder.
What he got was even better.
On Friday, Poles apparently whittled the offers down to the best two. The Colts’, who could offer the number four pick in this draft, the fourth pick in the second round this year, and number ones in 2024 and 2025.
And, the Panthers’, who could offer the number nine pick in this draft, their own second rounder which is number 39, and first rounders in 2024 and 2025.
That wasn’t going to be enough.
But the Panthers are where the Bears had been mostly every year of our lives. They are desperate for a quarterback. So they suddenly sweetened their offer to the ninth overall pick in this draft, the second rounder they got from the 49ers in the Christian McCaffrey trade (61st overall), the 2024 first and a 2025 second, with a key new piece to their offer.
DJ Moore (no, not the old Bears defensive back named DJ Moore…though he also played for the Bears and Panthers).
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The Bears sacrificed the higher of the two Panthers’ 2023 second round picks and accepted a 2025 two instead of a one to instead acquire a bona fide top 10 NFL receiver, who is only 26 years old and is signed for the next three years for a total of $52 million. For it is salary cap space that the Bears have and playmakers that they lack.
They went back to the Colts, where Poles told his old boss with the Chiefs, GM Chris Ballard, that the Colts best offer had been bested.
As legendary Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. once said…
Maybe the Colts countered, maybe they didn’t. Whatever they did, the Panthers offer was still better and the deal was done.
And for those of us who worried that Ryan Poles was going to fuck this up, well…he didn’t.
He did the opposite of that. He took the Bears’ good fortune of having the number one overall pick fall into their laps on the season’s final day and he turned it into an absolute haul.
And he did it before free agency starts, where, incredibly, the Bears are now in a position where they don’t need a wide receiver. They can throw their still copious amounts of cash at offensive and defensive linemen and a couple of linebackers.
The Bears will not be rebuilt in one offseason, but they can make a big step to it. And they appear to be well on their way.
And for those who insist the Bears haven’t done anything to help Fields, the last two trades that Ryan Poles has made were to get talented wide receivers for Justin to throw to.
Of all of Poles moves, the one that looks like it might not work was when he traded the Bears’ second round pick (which turned out to be the 32nd pick in the draft) to the Steelers for Chase Claypool at the trade deadline.
At 6’4, 238 with blazing speed, Claypool looks the part and he was productive with the Steelers. But not so productive they weren’t willing to trade him, and he was a bust with the Bears over their final eight games. He caught just 14 passes for 140 yards.
But a lot contributed to that. First, he had to learn a brand new offense on the fly. Second, in the game when it looked like he was catching on, he caught five passes in the first 20 minutes of a game against the Packers, and then he hurt his knee.
He missed the next two games.
When he came back there were only two games left and one of those Nathan Peterman was the quarterback for.
Claypool is miscast as a number one receiver. He uses his size far better after the catch than he does in using it to overpower defensive backs for the ball. As a part of a talented receiving corps he’s a very useful piece.
And guess what? As the roster currently stands, he’s the the Bears number three receiver behind Moore and Darnell Mooney. Mooney is much better cast as a number two receiver than as a top option, too.
Suddenly, the Bears receiving group makes sense.
Denniston Moore Jr. has 5,201 yards in just five NFL seasons. That number would—as listeners of the Remember This Crap Podcast know all too well—make him the Bears’ all-time leading receiver, with almost 150 more yards than Johnny Morris who played twice as long, albeit during an era where the forward pass was still a novelty (not really—well, maybe for the Bears).
The Bears knew all along that with a tepid wide receiver free agent market and a less than sterling set of collegiate receivers in this year’s draft, that trading for a proven receiver was the best way to use their cap room to make Fields’ life easier.
Last year the Raiders traded a first and a second round pick to get Davante Adams, and then they had to work out a new five-year, $140 million deal for him.
Last year the Eagles traded a first and a third to get AJ Brown and then signed him to a five-year, $100 million contract.
The Bears got Moore with four picks and inherited his already team friendly three year contract.
That’s good work.
Getting all those picks and a player is just one half of the deal, however. In the end, the trade will be judged by what the Bears turn those picks into.
My guess is that they won’t make all four of those selections. One or more will be used to move up or down. That’ll just make it all the more complicated for us to track what they ended up with from this.
But the true judgement will be how good the Bears are two and three years from now.
With a rookie quarterback and without their best receiver, the 2023 Panthers figure to struggle record wise. The 2023 Bears figure to be significantly better than the 2022 team was, but how many more wins will that really translate to?
The Bears will sit here a year from now with what figures to be two fairly high picks in the 2024 draft. If Justin Fields makes the next leap from good player with the ability to make spectacular plays to great player, then the Bears will have ammo to shop for whatever impact player(s) they want in next year’s draft.
Actually, if he shores up the few remaining weaknesses in his game (slower than you’d like decision making, inconsistent throwing mechanics and puzzling poor accuracy on short throws), maybe the Bears record does improve dramatically.
If he doesn’t make a leap, they can package the picks and take another swing at QB in what figures to be a much better draft for that position next season.
Either way, they used the top pick in this draft to improve themselves now and in the future.
The best thing about Fields’ weaknesses are that they are so few and so solvable. He does most of the really hard things really well. And there’s an excellent chance that an improved offensive line, his new toys at wide receiver, the ability for the Bears to open up the passing game because of those improvements, and his willingness to work his ass off all the time, will mitigate those weaknesses anyway.
When Aaron Rodgers finally agrees to his inevitable trade to the Jets, these are the quarterbacks the Bears will face in 2023.
Jared Goff (twice)
Kirk Cousins (twice)
Jordan Love (twice)
CJ Stroud/Bryce Young (whoever the Panthers draft)
Jimmy Garoppolo (assuming the Raiders sign him)
Kyler Murray (if he’s healthy enough to play)
Whoever the Bucs sign to replace Brady
Whoever the Commanders end up with
You can make a pretty solid case that the Bears will have the better quarterback in 15 of those 17 games.
When, if ever, was the last time they could say that?
Finally, just how much better do we think this trade with the Panthers was than it could have been if Lovie Smith hadn’t f’d his bosses on the way out of town with his week 18 win?
The number two overall pick would have been pretty valuable, still.
My guess is the Bears could have done this exact same trade with the Panthers, with one notable exception.
You did more to improve the Bears’ passing game in one afternoon with the Texans than you did in nine seasons as the head coach in Chicago.
We appreciate it.