Watching the Super Bowl earlier this month filled plenty of Chicago Bears fans with hope. The Cincinnati Bengals were a team many picked to finish last in their division going into the 2021 season. They’d gone 4-11-1 the previous year. Their young quarterback was coming off a torn ACL. Defensively they were still unproven. A few months later, they were 10-7, stunned #1 seed Titans and AFC-commanding Chiefs in the playoffs, and came minutes away from beating the Rams for a Lombardi trophy. If they could do it that quickly, so can the Bears. Well, not everybody is brimming with such optimism. That includes new GM Ryan Poles.
One thing about the 36-year old that is already apparent is he has no fear about speaking his mind. Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian revealed to Adam Jahns of The Athletic just how blunt Poles was with the Bears’ interview team back in January. When offering his roster assessment, there was no beating around the bush. While there are some players he likes, it sounds like Poles is not convinced this team is close to contending.
“This isn’t going to change overnight, by the way,” Polian told The Athletic in a phone conversation earlier this month. “There is a lot of work to be done here. Coach Nagy made it clear in his departure and virtually everyone we talked to, this team has, depending how the quarterback turns out, six to eight players that you can win with — win because of in the National Football League. That’s not enough. There’s a lot work to be done, as Ryan (Poles) pointed out, and it won’t happen overnight.”
This is refreshing.
Not just because a GM candidate was honest in his feelings about the roster but also that George McCaskey and the rest of the team brass kept an open mind. It isn’t hard to understand Poles’ position (see what I did there?). The Bears had the second-oldest roster in the NFL by the end of last season. One that finished 6-11 and is overburdened by bloated contracts. Old and overpaid doesn’t lead to much success in the NFL.
This leads to the other issue Poles must tackle—lack of resources. Not only are the Bears light on salary cap space ($28 million with 25 in-house free agents), but just five draft picks, including no 1st rounder. This is a problem for somebody who said he wants to build through the draft. One he can’t rectify in one offseason.
Ryan Poles has no incentive to go all-in right now
Some will disagree, believing the Bears must work to take advantage of Justin Fields’ cheap rookie contract while they can. There is an element of truth to this. Quarterback contracts are more expensive than ever. Teams that pay the biggest ones haven’t won a Super Bowl in years, hence the sense of urgency. That said, there are a few reasons Poles wouldn’t be one of them. Chief among them is the fact he didn’t draft Fields.
The new GM understands that he is inheriting the quarterback of a different regime. Yes, he’ll do everything to help Fields excel, but he doesn’t have to feel pressured. If it doesn’t work out, it is a virtual guarantee McCaskey will grant him the opportunity to pick his own quarterback. Then there is the whole building through the draft thing mentioned before. Ryan Poles understands that paying Fields won’t be a problem if he can do that.
Good drafting teams can navigate large contracts.
It is clear this new GM isn’t going to be pressured into playing for 2022. He’ll try to tweak the roster to be competitive, but Poles is playing the long view. He wants to get this team to a point where they can consistently compete every year. That will take time.
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