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One thing is clear after watching Ryan Poles’ first moves on the job: He’s not afraid to tear things down to build it back up.
The new general manager of the Chicago Bears has already parted ways with three key players from the division-winning 2018 season — Eddie Goldman, Tarik Cohen, and Khalil Mack. The release of Danny Trevathan is expected to follow.
After the surprising trade of Mack to the Chargers, it’s clear that a rebuild is underway in Chicago. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The trade allowed the Bears to acquire another second-round pick (No. 48 overall) and gaining another early-round pick is beneficial for a team that is currently light on draft capital.
In an interview with NBCChicago.com, Poles discussed his philosophy on team-building, and the Mack trade certainly aligns with his values.
“Homegrown talent is a big indicator of success,” Poles said. “Can we draft young players and continue to keep the roster young and sign them to extensions and keep them here? That way, you can have continuity and a standard that is going to be upheld by the culture of the guys that you bring in.”
Poles’ background as the Kansas City Chiefs’ college scouting coordinator and later their director of college scouting will hopefully improve the Bears’ draft record from the previous regime. Trading Mack also provided Chicago with cap flexibility.
According to spotrac.com, Chicago currently has the sixth-most cap space in the NFL. The defense will undoubtedly take a hit with the loss of Mack, but Poles now has the opportunity to reshape the team in his vision.
Now is the chance to build an offense around Fields
The 2021 Chicago Bears offense did not perform well, to say the least. It finished 29th in EPA per play, 29th in passing DVOA and 23rd in rushing DVOA.
With that in mind, every move in the organization should be made with the thought of “How does this help Justin Fields?”
If it wasn’t clear before the 2021 season, it’s crystal clear now — the future of the franchise hinges on the Georgia native’s shoulders. Luckily for the Bears, they can turn that around this offseason, and that starts with getting Fields some playmakers.
Bears pass catchers combined caught 332 passes (27th in the NFL), 3,635 receiving yards (25th) and 16 touchdowns (29th). The stats weren’t pretty — and akin to a time when the Bears’ best receiver was Johnny Knox— but some options are available, particularly in that second and third wave of free agency that could appeal to Poles.
Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic has a ranking of his top 150 free agents, and DJ Chark is a name that the Bears should be interested in signing. Though he only played in four games for the Jaguars last year, Chark is the right age (25), size (6-foot-3) and has a price tag the Bears should be able to pay.
Signing Chark comes at a risk due to his broken ankle that sidelined him for much of the 2021 season, but if there’s a chance he can replicate his 2019 success (73 receptions for 1,008 yards), then the Bears have to pounce. Only two receivers are currently under contract — Dazz Newsome and Darnell Mooney — so an overhaul of the position is necessary.
Can I interest you in a Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster? He hasn’t matched his proficient 2018 numbers, but he’s still a solid slot receiver who won’t demand a huge payday.
Poles also has receiving options in the draft. George Pickens, David Bell and Christian Watson are all options the Bears can — and should — explore. We’ve seen more receivers come into the NFL as rookies and contribute more than ever before. It’s also cost-effective if the Bears choose a receiver in the second round and hit on the pick.
Upgrading the offensive line should be second on Poles’ to-do list this offseason. Poles has already discussed the types of athletes he desires along the o-line.
We’re going to change it up a little bit just in terms of the style,” Poles said at the NFL Combine. “A lot of those guys — and the message has been clear — we’ve gotta change body types a little bit. We’ve gotta get lighter, we’ve gotta get quicker.”
Up to this point, Poles has been noncommittal on what position last year’s second-round pick, Teven Jenkins, is going to play. Aside from Jenkins, there are holes up and down the line. Former San Francisco 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson signed with New York Jets. Brandon Scherff signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That takes away two potential options along the line.
Los Angeles Rams center Brian Allen should be a priority for the Bears now that Tampa Bay has re-signed Ryan Jensen. Allen had a PFF grade of 80.2 and is from the Chicago suburbs. Having a good center who can handle protection calls makes Fields’ job easier as a young quarterback.
No one knows if Fields is the franchise QB the Bears have been chasing since the inception of the organization, but the Bears have to put the resources into him to see if he’s that guy. From Joe Burrow to Josh Allen, building a successful offense is the best path to consistent success in today’s NFL, where you’re nothing without a QB.
And if the Bears want to “take back the north,” then it starts with adequately building around Fields.
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