LAKE FOREST – What were the odds 48 hours ago that Bear sgeneral manger Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus would get 19 questions and 15 minutes into their training camp opening press conference Tuesday before Justin Fields’ name was mentioned?
Welcome to the big leagues, fellas.
We are now about to start getting answers, are the new Ryan and Matt up to the task?
For all our worries over whether Poles had done enough to support and protect Fields, N’Keal Harry, Michael Schofield and Riley Reiff have not only been added over the last few days, they pretty much became instant starters.
Was that the plan all along, to study the kids as long as possible and then at the last minute go looking for answers in the bargain basement to plug obvious holes?
I can’t say but it does make the Bears a slightly more competitive team and eliminates some concern Fields will be running for his life on every play.
Let’s not bury Tuesday’s lead, though.
The likely holdouts of Robert Quinn after a summer of silence and Roquan Smith as he seeks a contract extension turned into “hold-ins” when both reported to camp on time. But both are expected to refuse to practice, Smith until he gets a contract extension he is richly deserving of and Quinn until... honestly it appears even Poles and Eberflus are uncertain as to what the enigmatic Quinn wants.
The two reported to avoid hefty and irrevocable fines the Bears could issue if they weren’t present, and now the team can’t practically force them to practice and can’t punish them either.
While it is not clear what Poles’ plan is, it is very clear Quinn and Smith – both coming off All-Pro seasons – are the two best players on the team.
No rookie coach or exec wants to start their first season with their two best players in open protest.
That ball is now squarely in Poles’ court with little agreement as to what his best answers are. Poles was clearly uncomfortable telling us Tuesday that he had been told both Smith and Quinn were in the building but he had not seen them yet.
Poles was asked specifically what Smith is looking for in negotiations.
“I don’t know what his intentions are,” Poles said. “I know he checked in and we’re going take it from there and gather information and take it one step at a time. That’s all I can do.”
Actually that’s not all he can do.
Poles does have multiple options with both players and plenty of control with Smith, who can’t get to free agency without logging at least one more vested season. And even if he gets there, Poles can always use the franchise tag for one, two or even three seasons.
Quinn has even fewer options since he is under contract for a few more seasons.
I asked Poles how much of his job here is evaluating talent and character and how much is strategy.
“There’s always strategy,” Poles said. “I think you always have to anticipate, you always have to have A, B, and C lined up in this position. I think that’s important.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to also evaluate and make sure that we’ve got the right guys on the team.”
Whatever happens with Quinn is unlikely to have a major impact on the futures of Poles and Eberflus other than how it is perceived in the locker room and among fans, but Smith is different.
For those who believe it’s as simple as you have to give Smith whatever he wants, you’re wrong.
Sure, you’d love to have a 25-year old two-time All-Pro who oozes character and leadership, but the situation the Bears find themselves in is not at all different from where the Raiders were five years ago when they made the Khalil Mack deal.
Who won that deal is in the eye of the beholder.
Smith might command a similar price – look at the Jamal Adams deal between the Seahawks and Jets in 2020 too – and for a rebuilding club Poles has to at least weigh his best options.
There’s no clear answer here, guys, and this may take a while, but what is clear is now Poles and Eberflus are playing for real and the clock is running.