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End-of-season press conferences are usually must-watch events.
This one wasn’t — but that’s probably a good thing.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ first end-of-season press conference Tuesday was drama-free, the first time we can say that since at least 2017. In many ways, that speaks to the successful teardown Poles orchestrated in 2022 and the optimism that lingers despite the Bears losing 14 games and securing the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Still, there’s plenty to chew on from the team’s 27-minute press conference that featured both Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus. Let’s run through the stuff that matters:
The Lead: Unlikely Bears draft a QB No. 1
Here’s what you need to know: Poles wants Justin Fields to get better as a passer, but he still believes in him as QB1. It’s very unlikely the GM will select a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick.
“I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision,” Poles said.
If this draft class had a generational talent like Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck, perhaps that would be on the table, but it’s far more likely the Bears charge ahead with Fields as their guy.
“We’re excited about his development and where he goes next. He showed ability to be impactful with his legs. There are flashes with his arm. Now if we can put that together, I think we have something really good,” Poles said.
As for what he specifically wants to see Fields improve as a passer: “Just for things to slow down mentally, and then be able to react and anticipate quicker. Obviously with that, we also have to continue to build around him so that he can do that consistently as well.”
That last point is important and was a growing frustration for fans watching Fields in 2022. He obviously needs more around him to succeed. And Poles gave an interesting answer when asked if he regrets not putting more around his QB:
“No. I thought we used the resources that we had to the best of our ability based on what was there. I think that’s kind of what I go back to in terms of making sound decisions. Like, that’s hard. I wish there was a perfect scenario where you could just clean up everything and get good. So I thought we made, solid, sound decisions to do that.”
In other words, Poles inherited a mess and did what he could with that mess. Now everything is cleaned up and it’s go time.
– Poles was happy with Braxton Jones’ rookie season. The left tackle wasn’t perfect, but when you consider he played six more games than he did as a senior at Southern Utah and was the only offensive player to play every snap for the Bears, it was a success.
“That tells me he’s wired right. He’s got mental toughness, roll the ups and downs. So I’m hoping that he continues to work on his body, his technique and that’s someone that we can play with and be successful with for a while.”
– Don’t rule out a return for David Montgomery. In fact, it might be likely at this point.
“I’ve always wanted to keep David,” Poles said. “I love his mentality, how he plays the game. I told him that to his face. He’s part of the identity that we had this year that kept us competitive. Now, the second part of that is just the contract situation. That’s something that we’ll see how that goes and if we can find common ground.”
There was also a time when Poles wanted to keep Roquan Smith. Tuesday, Smith got his $100 million deal with the Ravens. Still, this is a different situation. Montogomery isn’t in line for that type of pay day and the running back market is flooded this offseason, which could work in the Bears’ favor.
“Obviously, I’ve learned that you can want a player and the value’s got to come together for it to happen,” Poles said. “I love the way he attacked this season. That’s a guy that does everything right. You all watched his tenacity, his fight. I’m a big David Montgomery fan.”
– Cole Kmet might be first in line for an extension. When asked who emerged as a blue-chip player this year, the GM went straight to the tight end.
“The one that stands out to me this year … I thought Cole did a really good job. I thought he elevated his game from the film that I watched last year to what it was this year, so that’s exciting. I mean, that’s one that comes to mind right now,” Poles said.
Kmet is entering the final year of his rookie contract and appears to be a no-brainer for an extension. He fits everything Poles and Eberflus are trying to build and plays a crucial role in both the run game and pass game. Logic says Kmet is likely to be extended before the 2023 season begins.
– Poles didn’t express much regret over the Chase Claypool trade. The belief is that a full offseason with Fields and this offensive system will generate better results next season.
“I wish he came in with 1,000 yards and we’re going, but it didn’t happen that way,” Poles said. “But do I believe in that talent and what he can bring to this team? Yeah, I do. I still think we’re going to get that.”
In a perfect world, Claypool would have delivered results right away and Poles would have extended his new receiver this offseason. Instead, that extension appears unlikely. Claypool was drafted six picks behind Kmet — his Notre Dame teammate — in 2020 and is also entering the final year of his rookie deal.
“In terms of the contract stuff, we just got to take the next step, see how he gets implemented and how he does in this offseason,” Poles said. “He’s going to spend a lot of time with Justin, as well as the other receivers, and build that chemistry. We’ll evaluate that even clearer next year.”
– Poles was hoping to win more games in 2022. For a team that was as competitive as the Bears were, it still seems crazy that they ended up with the No. 1 overall pick. CHGO’s Mark Carman did a good job of recapping the unlikely moments that led to getting the first draft pick. With that in mind, I asked Poles if he expected to win more than three games:
“I think you always do, right? And some of those close games that we talked about that can go one way or the other, I was hoping to win those. But that wasn’t the case … I got home and one of my buddies from the neighborhood drove by, like, ‘Hey, congratulations on the first overall pick.’ I’m still not in that mindset right now. It hurts. It hurts to be in that position. Obviously, the opportunities and the things that will come from that, I hope that it helps us. But you’re always expecting to win. You don’t want to be in this position.”
– Despite all the resources, Poles vows to be measured. Yes, the Bears will spend money this offseason, but don’t expect them to go too crazy. If the Roquan Smith situation taught us anything about Poles, it’s that he’s going to be disciplined when it comes to the value they assign players.
“We’ve gotta stay sound in free agency. I know everyone’s talking about how much money we have and we’re just gonna go crazy. We’re gonna be sound so that we get the right players in here and we get good value,” Poles said. “And (we’ll) attack the draft always keeping value in mind. That’s gonna stay the same. It’s not gonna change just because we have the No. 1 overall pick.”
Something Poles said in his opening statement really stood out to me: Independently, he mentioned that the Bears were one of the least penalized teams in the league, while also pointing out that they led the NFL in rookie snaps by almost … 1,000.
That’s not nothing. And it reflects very positively on the coaching.
Carm, Nick and I broke everything down in depth on yesterday’s CHGO Bears show.
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