In Super Bowl LVII, wide receiver Kadarius Toney ran back the longest punt return in Super Bowl history to set up Kansas City’s go-ahead touchdown in the 4th quarter, which he himself scored. After another touchdown gave KC a 35-27 lead, linebacker Leo Chenal slowed Philly’s next drive ever so slightly, receiving credit for a sack when he helped chase Jalen Hurts out of bounds on a scramble on 1st and 10.
Between Toney’s punt return and touchdown and Chenal’s six combined tackles and one sack, the two young standouts played key roles in helping KC secure its second championship in four years.
And they might never have gotten the chance but for the Bears hiring Ryan Poles.
The Bears general manager began his NFL front-office career in 2009 as a player personnel assistant for Kansas City, rising through the ranks to director of college scouting and then assistant director of player personnel in 2018 under GM Brett Veach.
Two years later, in November 2020, NFL owners approved an expansion to the Rooney Rule that would incentivize teams to develop minority coaching and executive talent. The new rule — 2020 Resolution JC-2A — stated that when a team hires a minority candidate as a head coach or GM (listed in the rule as “Primary Football Executive”), the team that lost the candidate would receive a compensatory 3rd round draft choice in each of the next two drafts. If they lose two such candidates in the same year, they get a comp 3rd round pick in each of the next three drafts.
Fast forward to the 2022 hiring cycle, with Poles now Kansas City’s executive director of player personnel. After the Bears hired Poles as GM in January, the NFL awarded KC compensatory 3rd round picks for 2022 and 2023. The 2022 pick was the 103rd pick in the draft, the 5th of seven picks awarded under the new rule.
And with the 103rd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Kansas City selected Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal, who in just 18 of 75 defensive snaps had four solo tackles and the aforementioned sack, one of only two KC had all game.
Then in October, with Kansas City looking for an offensive boost, they took a swing at Toney, who was working his way back from a hamstring injury. This was a solid gamble, since Toney had been a first round pick just the year before. (The Giants drafted him, funny enough, with the Bears pick from the Justin Fields trade.)
To acquire Toney, KC sent the Giants two 2023 picks: their own 6th rounder and their other compensatory 3rd rounder from the Poles deal.
The success KC had in the Super Bowl with Toney and Chenal is exactly the type of outcome NFL owners likely wanted in 2020 when they amended the Rooney Rule. The franchise developed Poles into a GM, the Bears hired him, and the league rewarded them with two picks that they used — one directly, one through trade — to add players who helped them win a Super Bowl.
As the Bears continue their own efforts to increase opportunities for minority executives, the success KC had in 2022 is something Poles is surely watching, and something Bears fans should watch whenever Ian Cunningham finally gets a GM job.
Hat tip to Albert Breer, who made the Toney-Poles connection on Kap & J. Hood this morning on ESPN 1000, with Jonathan Hood and guest host Courtney Cronin. Breer’s note on the connection as a great example of a club using the rule set me off to fill in the rest. As Breer noted, compensatory picks and other additional draft picks are vital for a team like Kansas City that has so much of its cap invested in one player — a situation the Bears will hopefully have soon with Fields.
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.