The Bears have a new general manager, and it is somehow another Ryan Pace, er, Ryan Poles. (I don’t care if this joke is tired by now; I’ll keep making it, Dear Readers).
On the surface, it’s exciting that Chicago has hired someone away from the NFL’s premier organization in the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City has football’s best quarterback, best coach, a dynamite roster, and, after four straight appearances in the AFC Championship Game, is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. That Poles worked his way up through a franchise that possesses, inarguably, one of the premier modern processes in roster construction is a quality sign of his work ethic (which is a prerequisite in any profession). Not to mention it shows how various more established football minds see his acumen and reward it accordingly.
On the other hand, he is inexperienced, and it is fair to question how much of a part he played in the Chiefs’ success. Though, to be precise, anyone the Bears were going to hire for either of their top football jobs was always going to be a cog in a machine ready to step up and be the primary driver. We’ll have to see whether this cog was particularly valuable in due time.
At this moment in time, here are my primary questions for Poles (who is young enough to be my brother) as he starts his tenure as Bears’ general manager.
Who’s the coach?
Pardon my Polish, but I’ll only respect the initial offerings of the Poles era if he hires someone for Justin Fields and nothing else. I’m sure guys like Matt Eberflus and Dan Quinn would have respectable teams in due time, but they are not coaches for 2022 professional football. This is an offensive game centered around titans at quarterback now, with merely passable and occasionally clutch defensive play as a complementary feature. Build around defense, and you’re begging to lose big games by default. Good enough on offense is no longer good enough. Good enough on defense is. The Bears cannot be in a position where Fields has to rescue them all the time and play hero-ball, or they’ll fail. He needs proper support, and he needs a head coach who understands that burden.
Early reports maintain that Poles will have the opportunity to pick his coach with no other outside input (if he so chooses) and that it was a mandate for him to take the job in the first place. Bill Polian: Thank you for your service. Please go and say Lamar Jackson is a wide receiver or running back somewhere else while talking about how great the Colts always are. No one is listening.
If that is the case, then color me optimistic about Poles genuinely knowing what he’s doing. It also means hot offensive names like Buffalo’s Brian Daboll and Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich might be back in play after an extended interview process.
How do the Bears build around Fields?
I will belabor the point: Nothing Poles or Coach To Be Determined do will matter if Justin Fields doesn’t become a superstar.
Fields is the talisman—the guy with the keys to the car and all their hopeful success. Getting him across the finish line to a point where he’s very much a part of the primary organizational hierarchy (General Manager-Head-Coach-Quarterback) for years is Plan A to Z in the Bears becoming the Monsters of the Midway again.
Does Chicago hire a coach who helped create the T-1000 in Buffalo? How about the man who eased in a Hall of Famer in his 40s to a deep shot, big-play offense after years in a spread and dink-and-dunk scheme? Do they expand the web and perhaps start thinking about the person who’s been the caretaker for the NFL’s original Terminator wearing red and the No. 15? There is no shortage of quality options on the coaching front.
By that same token: Who are Fields’ downfield weapons? Darnell Mooney is nice and all, but he’s the only Bears’ receiver currently under contract, and I wouldn’t exactly call him a No. 1 target (at least for now). Is a premium placed on the development of tackles like Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom to help keep Fields upright?
Every personnel decision (reactive and especially proactive) must center around the man adorned with the No. 1. If it doesn’t, then you can write the Bears off right then and there, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating in the slightest.
How do you clean up your predecessor’s mess?
Poles’ Bears won’t be pushing for a Super Bowl right away. The playoffs, perhaps (there are enough pieces in place for that goal), but championships? No way. Not with the underlying salary cap situation that Chicago has mucked up all over their foundation after trying to win in 2020 and 2021. It’s not that dire, the sky isn’t falling, but they do have to thread the needle a bit first before starting somewhat fresh.
Right now, the Bears have only 37 players under contract for the 2022 season and only roughly $40 million in cap space. They have one good inside linebacker (who they’ll have to compensate with a handsome deal soon), one good cornerback, and, as mentioned, one receiver locked in as initial glaring issues.
For starters, I can’t imagine players like Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, Jimmy Graham, and Danny Trevathan all returning. Now would be an ideal time to eat any dead cap on their deals (if feasible) to be in a healthier financial spot down the line. Those moves should also provide an immediate boost along with breathing room. Then, do you bring back, if only temporarily, former secondary stalwarts like Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan on the cheap as short-term stopgaps? Do you find a high-priced center in free agency (hello, Ryan Jensen) or another playmaker (is Allen Robinson back in play? How about Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley?).
These are all questions Poles will need to answer in the coming weeks and months.
I won’t beat around the bush. I think Poles has his work cut out for him. I like and appreciate his background, but the Bears are kind of (to put it lightly) a mess. Thankfully, he has Fields, so the most challenging part is over for him in finding a quarterback.
If he keys all the proper strokes, the Bears could soon find themselves in a strong long-term position in a weak NFC that may be without Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and no other true star quarterback (Kyler Murray? Dak Prescott?). Chicago would be unchallenged with a real game-changer under center and a conference that has no answers for him in an ideal scenario. But that’s a lot of if’s, and there’s a lot to churn through first.
The pressure’s on, but hey: That’s the job for Mr. Poles and why he signed on the dotted line in the first place. It’s his show and we can only hope it turns out to be entertaining.