5 things on the Bears: Ryan Poles’ honeymoon is over. Time to fill roster with difference makers

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles looks on before a game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Chicago.

The grace period is officially over for general manager Ryan Poles.

With Year 1 of the Bears’ rebuilding project officially over, it’s time for Poles to infuse the roster with some true difference makers so his team can make a serious run at the playoffs next season.

That ought to be a serious possibility, especially since Poles is armed with the No. 1 pick in the draft and gobs of salary cap space.

“We need to win more games,” Poles said during a joint 28-minute news conference with coach Matt Eberflus at Halas Hall on Tuesday. “Some of those tight games I want to finish. I want to finish better and bringing in ... more playmakers is going to allow us to do that.

“The expectation is to take that next step. I want to stair-step this thing to the top and then stay up there as long as possible.”

It’s a place former Bears GMs Mark Hatley, Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery and Ryan Pace all tried to find.

Yet, they all failed.

Poles certainly impressed during his opening statement Tuesday as he lavished praise upon:

• The players, for never giving up.

• Eberflus, for keeping everyone together.

• His staff, for pursuing talent all the way to Week 18.

• And the fans, for sticking it out. “I was blown away this season – at the stadium, around town, at restaurants – with the amount of understanding that they know where this organization is and where it’s headed,” Poles said. “I appreciate their patience. I know they’ve been waiting a long time to sustain success.”

Amen to that. Now it’s time for Poles to show the fans that he is indeed the answer to their prayers.

Draft/free agency

So what will Poles do with the No. 1 pick? To no one’s surprise, Poles told us that he may just sit tight and draft whichever player will help the Bears the most. But the smart move is obviously to take the best offer from a team that wants to add a franchise quarterback.

“If the phones go off and there are certain situations where that can help us, then we’ll go down that avenue, “Poles said. “We have really good flexibility to help this team, regardless if it’s making the pick there or moving back a little bit or moving back a lot. We’ll be open to everything.”

Before we get to that, however, Poles will have big decisions to make in free agency, which opens March 15. The WR group isn’t overwhelming, but there are a number of intriguing options on the defensive line.

So how aggressive will Poles be? His answer makes us wonder.

“We’ve gotta stay sound in free agency. I know everyone’s talking about how much money we have and we’re just gonna go crazy. We’re gonna be sound so that we get the right players in here and we get good value.”

Thoughts on Claypool

When Poles traded a second-round pick to Pittsburgh for Chase Claypool, the expectation was that the 6-foot-4 receiver would significantly help the passing game.

Instead, Claypool managed just 14 catches for 140 yards in seven games.

“That’s the difference between trades in baseball and basketball (where) it’s plug and play,” Poles said. “(In the NFL), there’s an entire offseason and half of a season of installs and all of the things that you need to do collectively to execute an offensive play.

“On top of that, it was a little bit choppy with Justin getting dinged up; he got dinged up. ... I told Chase – and we had a really good conversation – I’m not blinking at (all of that) at all. I think he’s gonna help us moving forward and I’m excited about it.”

Claypool has one year remaining on his rookie deal. The guess here is Poles won’t extend the wideout until he sees significant improvement.

Thoughts on Montgomery

There’s a good chance that David Montgomery has played his last game with the Bears. The running back took pictures with friends and family on the 50-yard line after Sunday’s loss and also interrupted Justin Fields’ presser Monday with a hug and an “I love you, buddy.”

Montgomery, who ran for 3,609 yards and added 1,240 yards on 155 receptions during his four years in Chicago, will be an unrestricted free agent.

Poles would love to keep Montgomery, but the GM will probably be able to put those dollars to better use elsewhere with the emergence of Khalil Herbert.

“I love his mentality (and) how he plays the game,” Poles said of Montgomery. “I told him that to his face. He’s part of the identity that we had this year that kept us competitive. ...

“Now, the second part of that is just the contract situation. That’s something we’ll see ... if we can find common ground. Obviously, I’ve learned that you can want a player and the value’s got to come together for it to happen.”

Bears rising?

Let’s close out the final Five Things of the season by circling back to the end of Poles’ opening statement Tuesday.

• He loves the foundation that Eberflus and his staff established. The disciplined approach led to very few stupid penalties and helped develop a tight-knit group behind the scenes. “As a GM and a head coach you worry about through adversity the locker room starting to fracture (and) people being selfish,” Poles said. “That was never the case. There was no finger-pointing, the guys bought in and they had fun with each other.”

• Poles said the Bears led the league in rookie snaps by almost 1,000. It was a big reason why they lost 14 games, but Poles believes it will pay big dividends moving forward.

Finally, Poles said he loved the tenacity the Bears played with from beginning to end. And he wasn’t the only one who noticed.

Said Poles: “I can’t tell you how many coaches from the teams that we played called the next morning ... and said, ‘You can feel your guys on tape. ... They play the right way. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re on the right path.”