With a complete rebuild of the Chicago Bears now officially underway, the most important question facing the team is what kind of, and how good of, a general manager is Ryan Poles.
Year 1 was fine, nothing to write home about, but not a ton to celebrate either.
Poles basically took a pass on free agency, signing just one-year deals with safety Dane Cruikshank, wide receivers Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown, linebacker Nicholas Morrow, guard Dakota Dozier and fullback Khari Blasingame. He also gave two-year deals to defensive tackle Justin Jones, quarterback Trevor Siemian, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and center Lucas Patrick.
The only big swing Poles took was on a three-year, $40.5 million deal with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, but it proved to be a swing and a miss when Ogunjobi failed his physical. But the GM pivoted quickly, signing Jones, who could prove to be his best Year 1 free agent.
The reality is none of those players were signed with the belief they would be important contributors to an eventual contender, and it was the right way to go about it.
Poles’ first draft actually went pretty well, particularly when you remember he started hamstrung without a first-round pick, which the Bears traded a year earlier to move up and draft Justin Fields.
Second-round safety Jaquan Brisker, fifth-round left tackle Braxton Jones and undrafted free agent linebacker Jack Sanborn were each selected to various all-rookie teams.
Second-round cornerback Kyler Gordon, third-round wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., fifth-round pass rusher Dominique Robinson, sixth-round running back Trestan Ebner and seventh-round safety Elijah Hicks were all also regular contributors as rookies and the groups’ 206 games played and 6,721 snaps were the most by rookies of any NFL team.
Of course, some of their playing time was due to being on the worst team in the league, but there is also hope all could have meaningful careers in Chicago.
The one thing we know for sure is after a year to settle in and warm up, Poles is going to need a much more productive second offseason if he hopes to stay in Chicago, and it all starts next week with the beginning of free agency.
Will he overreact with all the money he has to play with? Or does he have a better plan?
While the Bears have far and away the most money in the league to spend on free agents, what was already a less than impressive class got weaker with many of the best available players being franchise tagged earlier this week.
There are a few players Poles has to consider, like Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who is the best defensive lineman in free agency, but who is 30 years old. Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and offensive tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Mike McGlinchey are a few other names I’m sure you’ll hear.
But know this: Super Bowl teams are built through the draft, not free agency. Big name free agents can be difference-makers when you’re already a playoff contender and looking for a key piece or two. But you can’t buy a Super Bowl team.
One of the reasons the Bears are in this mess in the first place is because they’ve had just one first-round draft choice in the last four drafts after trading two for Khalil Mack in 2019 and 2020, and trading last year’s pick for Fields.
Does Poles have patience to go with smarts? Trading the No. 1 overall pick for multiple first-round picks and adding multiple young prospects, while saving much of his free agency cash for next offseason gives Poles the best track to a quick – and possibly successful – rebuild.
Now, we’re about to find out what the man is made of.