In trading with Eagles, Chicago Bears take a pass on Georgia DT Jalen Carter

Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles with the ninth overall pick during the first round of the NFL  draft, Thursday, April 27, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo.

LAKE FOREST – Two months ago, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter was widely believed to be a top five draft pick. Many NFL analysts thought he could be the best player in the 2023 NFL Draft. Some thought the Bears could consider taking him first overall.

The Bears had the chance to take him Thursday night during the draft’s first round – and they took a hard pass.

Much, obviously, has changed in the last two months. Carter faced a pair of misdemeanor charges for reckless driving and racing after news broke that he had been present at a January car crash that killed one of his Bulldogs teammates and a Georgia team staff. Carter was in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine when the charges were announced. He left Indianapolis for Georgia, skipping his interview session with the media, to turn himself in. He also denied any wrongdoing in a statement posted to social media.

In the ensuing weeks, Carter plead no contest and took a deal that sentenced him to 12 months probation, a $1,000 fine and community service. Legally speaking, the issue is resolved. But questions remain about Carter reportedly leaving the scene of the crash and lying to police about it, and the way he handled himself in the aftermath.

Meanwhile, the Bears traded out of the No. 1 overall pick. They sent the top pick to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for the No. 9 overall pick, receiver DJ Moore, and a handful of other draft picks. They seemed to trade out of range of drafting Carter.

But after all that, Carter’s draft uncertainty meant there was still a chance the Bears could land him with the No. 9 pick. Looking solely at a football-only perspective, Carter seemed to be exactly what the Bears and head coach Matt Eberflus needed on defense. Carter could be a game-wrecking presence on the interior. He was for Georgia. Players like that are hard to find.

The bigger question, though, was whether Carter could be a good fit for the culture the Bears are trying to build. Could he fit the mold of what Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles are trying to build? Did they believe he was mature enough to draft so high?

On April 3, Carter visited Halas Hall and met with the Bears’ brass as one of their 30 in-facility visits. Those meetings were invaluable. They also apparently helped the Bears determine that they didn’t want Carter.

When the Bears’ spot in the draft came up at No. 9 on Thursday night, Carter was there on the board for the taking. Poles, instead, called the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Bears swapped No. 9 for the Eagles’ No. 10 pick, adding a 2024 fourth-round pick in the deal. The Eagles took Carter. The Bears drafted Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright.

“Yeah, I knew that question would come up,” Poles said Thursday night. “What I’d rather do with that is stick with talking about Darnell. We felt comfortable that that was the guy we wanted.”

Carter may go on to have a great NFL career. Philadelphia could be the perfect spot for him. He’s on one of the best defensive lines in football where he doesn’t have to be the star as a rookie. The Bears still have a lot of rebuilding to do on the defensive line, especially after going with an offensive player with their first pick Thursday. But they didn’t see Carter as part of that rebuild.

The trade sent the message loud and clear: The Bears were not interested in Carter. They saw more value in picking up a future day-three draft pick and taking a right tackle who they liked a lot.

“Character’s always going to be important for us,” Poles said Thursday.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.