This offseason, Ryan Poles didn’t become the most popular man among Chicago Bears fans. Or the national media, for that matter. Many feel he didn’t do enough to help quarterback Justin Fields have a chance to succeed in 2022. Some even called him outright negligent. He wasn’t willing to spend any significant money in free agency and didn’t grab offensive help in the draft until the 3rd round when he selected 25-year-old receiver, Velus Jones.
Of the free agents he signed over the past few months, only one earns over $5 million per year. That is Justin Jones ($6 million), a defensive tackle. Wide receiver Byron Pringle is earning the next highest at $4.125 million. Considering Russell Gage got $10 million per year from Tampa Bay, it is easy to understand why Poles’ efforts underwhelm people. For his part, the Bears GM isn’t sweating the outside noise. He believes he added some underrated talent to his roster without harming the team’s long-term prospects.
Something his predecessor never seemed to mind regularly doing.
Not everybody is bothered by the approach, though. Longtime NFL insider Peter King is one of them. He’s conversed and connected with many GMs over his career and learned how the best ones tend to operate. So when he took a look at Poles’ overall actions, he came away more impressed than expected. While it wasn’t the offseason fans hoped for, it has done something more important: set the team up for the future.
“But part of being a smart franchise architect is to survey the landscape and understand where you are and who you are. Ryan Poles did that when he took this job. He traded Khalil Mack, putting a $24-million dead-cap-money anchor on the franchise in the process, and saddled the team with $52.8-million in dead money.
The flip side: The Bears have a league-high $96.9-million in cap space in 2023 ($103 million more than the in-debt Packers, per Over The Cap). The upshot is if new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy can help Justin Fields to be a competent player, the Bears will be in great position to attack the market next March. Baby steps, Bear fans.”
It’s true. Poles made a clear decision this off-season. He was going to sacrifice in the short term to improve his long-term prospects. He’s done that. Not only will the Bears lead the NFL in cap space next offseason, but he’ll also have his 1st round pick in the draft. If Fields takes a step forward this year despite modest circumstances, the team is perfectly positioned to throw a mountain of resources at his supporting cast in 2023.
Ryan Poles needs to know what he has in Justin Fields.
Recklessly throwing money at a quarterback he still isn’t sure about would be irresponsible. The facts remain undeniable. Poles didn’t draft Fields. While he does like the young quarterback, he can’t yet be sure the former 1st round pick is franchise material. The Bears went all-in with Mitch Trubisky in 2018, which blew up in their faces. He wants to see how Fields progresses this year. The numbers don’t have to be great, just better than his difficult rookie season.
The GM has perfectly positioned his team to get serious next year if such improvements occur. If they don’t, then Ryan Poles will have proven himself justified in holding back, and he can start the process of looking for alternatives at quarterback. That may seem callous to some, but nobody can deny the logic of such an approach.
Poles did enough to help his quarterback without going overboard.
If Fields improves, terrific. The GM will have the answers he needs. If he doesn’t, the team will be able to pivot quickly at the position while maintaining more than enough resources to continue improving the overall team.