We all know GMs take at least a few years to really evaluate, probably 5 or more before we really know where a GM took his team the first few years of his tenure. But, I don't think it's too early to look back at the 2022 season, draw some conclusions about it, and about the job Poles and Eberflus did overall.
Note that like most of my pieces, this is not for the light of heart or thin of skin. I don't want a team of good guys who make the playoffs once every 5 years, I want a team that pushes for a Super Bowl. If I thought Poles and Eberflus did a good job, I'd say so in the Den. If you don't want to hear that they did a poor job, you don't have to read any further. I'm writing this fan post in large part so I can vent a bit about what I think has happened so far.
Overall, I don't have much of a problem with Poles or Eberflus right now. I think they can both turn out to be really good. But, I do have some problems. I think they had a bad year, and I don't think it's too early to say so.
1. I think that Poles overall evaluated that the roster lacked young talent across the board, especially at key positions, and therefore the roster needed to be turned over. I said right after last season that the Bears had to trade Mack and Quinn. I was told by starry-eyed Bears fans that I was giving up 30+ sacks. It turned out to be less than 10. Poled did well to get back a second and a fourth. Maybe he could have gotten a little more for Mack but when you have valued players over 30, those are the ones you can get something for and the last time you can get something for them. It's what any rebuilding team should do. Poles pretty much cleaned the roster of all veteran talent besides Eddie Jackson, who was having a nice year before injuries ended his season.
2. I don't know if Braxton Jones is a starting NFL LT, but he's a nice pick for the 5th round, and Jack Sanborn looks like a great UDFA find as long as he doesn't have trouble staying on the field.
That's about all I got.
1. No help for Fields.
The offseason started with the hopes that the Bears could make some modest upgrades to their offensive personnel, or at least keep pace with the Nagy-fense. The first wave of FA came and went, and the apologists said it's still early. The second and third waves came and went and all we got was Lucas Patrick and Byron Pringle, and the apologists said there's still the draft. The second round came, went, came again, and went again.
By this point, we're entering the third round of the draft with Mooney, ESB and Pringle as our starting WRs. Our LT is Larry Borom, our RT is Teven Jenkins, with Lucas Patrick at C, Whitehair at LG and ? at RG. I mean you can't expect any Year 1 starters after R2, so by this point, this was the team they went into camp with.
It doesn't take 20/20 hindsight to say that this was a bad plan. In fact, I and many others said exactly that. This is how you support your Year 2 QB? This is how you correct for the mistakes of the previous regime, by giving the QB arguably even worse support than the prior year? Poles finally added N'Keal Harry, Alex Leatherwood, Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield but it was too little, too late. The pass protection and pass targets stunk, and the passing game was dead last. The Bears threw it considerably less than any other team, in what appears to be in large part because the coaching staff didn't think the OL could block it. When they did throw, they gave up a ton of sacks, 4th most in the league despite having by far the fewest attempts. Pathetic. When the throws got out, the receivers didn't bring them in, or did little with the ball once they did, unless they were already in the end zone.
2. The overreaction to no help for Fields.
I'm quite convinced that by the time R3 rolled around, Poles himself realized his error. Oh shit, I didn't get Fields anyone. So, they're looking at a R3 draft board where all the good targets are picked clean, and it ends with Poles, Eberflus and Getsy talking themselves into taking Velus Jones Jr. He might be 25, he might not be very productive, he might not be able to catch or run more than a few routes, but he's legit fast and is a good player with the ball in his hands, surely we can get the most out of someone like this! What this offense really needs is screens and jet sweeps to a gadget player, that it will take it to the next level.
Now, I admit, I wanted Poles to invest something in WR, and he finally invests something and I complain, but I didn't mean for him to take a R5 talent, let alone a R5 talent in R3. It's hard to call this more than a R5 investment, even though I know he made the investment in the third round. At least take a R3 talent there, but I'd argue even then it's too late. All the good ones were gone. There's probably good value in R3 on an OL or LB or developmental TE maybe but you're no longer likely to get the WR you need. I mean, if a R2 talent fell to R3 I'd say well done, but taking a R5 talent in R3 is a screwup.
Then in camp they realized that the offense sucked shit, so they tried adding Alex Leatherwood and N'Keal Harry, and there was much rejoicing about all the former first rounders on our roster. Then by the first month of the season, I think Poles and the staff agreed: This offense is severely lacking, VJJ isn't ready to make an impact at the NFL level, Harry really is a bust, and the overall lack of protection and targets are making Fields look bad.
I think these guys were a bit aggressive removing each and every last player they could. They had decisions on guys like James Daniels and Bilal Nichols. They said no to all. They had guys like Khyris Tonga and Duke Shelley under cheap contract. They cut them too. It's not that I really wanted Daniels. Or Nichols. Or Tonga. Or Shelley. But, other teams used these guys and we really struggled to replace them.
We used our top pick, a 2nd rounder, to replace Shelley. We entered camp with basically a gaping hole at RG after cutting Daniels. I mean, we had nobody. In the end, Jenkins slid over, but that just leaves a hole at RT. I'm fine replacing Daniels, but replacing him with a hole -- that's cutting too deep.
I'm also personally not a fan of trading away Roquan Smith. Even though I'm not a big believer in paying off ball LBs big money, we have plenty of money and so few good players, that I'd rather err by overpaying to keep the good ones that we do have. On its own it's fine and I might even prefer the draft capital in the end, but on top of cutting all these other guys, Poles really gutted the team, and it showed in the league's worst record.
4. Over-commitment to defense.
At this point writing this, I'm getting pissed off and here come the real curse words. Poles' first -- and only -- semi-big FA move was to try to lock up a 3-technique. Seriously, what the fuck? No big move to help Fields with a protector. No big move to help Fields with a target. But when it comes to 3-technique, there's money to do something. Yeah, yeah, I know how it works, I was here from the Lovie years, "the engine of the defense!" and all that but... is that what we thought when Pace and Nagy were fired? What we really need now, as our one big move, is a fucking 3-technique? When I think of Pace and Nagy screwed up our team, I generally think about how they ignored 3-technique.
Then in the draft, Poles, I think he was trying so hard to be the scouts' best friend and stay true to the draft board, that he totally lost his way. Taking a safety in R2? Right after taking a nickel back? With Eddie Jackson still under contract? Are you fucking kidding me? What team builds this way, from the back of the defense forward, from safety on out? Taking a R2 dip into secondary, sure. Taking a double dip, unconscionable, and I already demonstrated that it just led to Poles making even worse moves to try to overcorrect the situation. It would be one thing if Poles was simply low investment all around, and balanced his top 2 picks between offense and defense, but if anything, he could have gone heavy on the offensive side and I would have fully supported it. Instead he went heavy, but on the defense side.
Bullshit. They messed up is what happened. They thought non-Nagy coaching, and increased opportunities for guys like Lucas Patrick, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Byron Pringle were all that were needed to have the passing game take a step forward. Instead, the passing game was dead last. Dead. Last. Worse than any year under Pace and Nagy. But at least the defense was also dead last.
But, Poles and Eberflus were put in a bad spot. They can't be evaluated!
Sorry, but after Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy were fired, absolutely nobody said, "Well you can just forget about improving our team in 2022! In fact, we have to go backwards," but now the apologist are out in force saying Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus couldn't improve our team this year, and in fact, they had to go backwards for the good of the long term future of the team. No, no, that's changing the story, moving the goal posts, 20/20 hindsight, and all of that. Nobody was saying any of that before the season except in the media, and we lambasted them for saying so. I agree they can't really be evaluated for a few years and I said so up front, but it's simply not true that Poles had no moves available to him, or that we can't evaluate what he did this most recent season to some degree. He could have traded for Amari Cooper. He could have signed Christian Kirk or Terron Armstead or at least DJ Chark. He could have made a better offer to Ryan Bates. He could have drafted Alec Pierce or George Pickens. He didn't have to trade for Chase Claypool. It's ok to say he made mistakes, but when someone says "these aren't really mistakes!" they're in Squealer territory.
I've also heard, "let's not pretend we'd be better by adding better players unless they're the best players in the league". There are few arguments more annoying. Yes, adding, say Terron Armstead, DJ Chark and Ryan Bates, it makes the team better. Of course it makes the team better, and that's even with Chark missing a good chunk of the season. Amari Cooper could have made a huge difference in my opinion. Yeah I'd rather have Devonte Adams and Trent Williams, but they weren't available.