Yes, Poles has done plenty of selling over the past nine months. From trading Khalil Mack in March to trading Pro Bowl pass rusher Robert Quinn and star linebacker Roquan Smith this week, Poles has pretty well dismantled the defense that his predecessor built and turned those three marquee players into draft picks.
Hours before Tuesday’s trade deadline, however, he went from sell mode to buy mode. Poles made his biggest splash addition yet in trading for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Chase Claypool.
Finally, after months of clamoring, Bears fans saw their No. 1 wish fulfilled: another weapon for quarterback Justin Fields. With the move, Poles showed that this rebuild – even if he won’t use the word rebuild – is much more than a fire sale.
Poles added a talented receiver with proven NFL production who likely has room to grow. Claypool had back-to-back 800-yard receiving seasons with an aging Ben Roethlisberger throwing him the football. Imagine what he could do with a quarterback who can actually move out of the pocket.
Most importantly, Claypool fits the Bears’ timeline. The Bears have 1 1/2 seasons to decide whether to grant Fields the fifth-year option on his rookie contract (the deadline will be the first week of May 2024). It became clear over the first eight games that Fields, top receiver Darnell Mooney and the rest of the offense needed help.
In adding Claypool now, Poles is giving himself plenty of time to see how those three jell on the field.
“I like the way Justin is trending, and I think adding another big body who’s physical, explosive, great leaping ability, can stretch the field, but also is violent with the ball in his hands as well as a blocker, I think that enhances everyone around him,” Poles said Tuesday at Halas Hall.
Poles seems to have concluded in August that Smith, the 2018 eighth overall draft pick, no longer fit the timeline – or the budget – that Poles had in mind.
Poles said Tuesday that he gave Smith, who serves as his own agent, a final contract offer before the regular season. Poles indicated that no more contract discussions occurred once the season started. He also said that Smith’s decision not to hire an agent did make coming to an agreement “harder.”
“The reality of it is that you have to ask yourself a question: Are we ever going to find that middle ground?” Poles said. “From our previous conversations, you gather that information and it felt like it was highly unlikely. So then are you able to then take the opportunity to enhance your roster now? Or are you OK with the chance that he walks away and we can’t use [Smith] to enhance our roster. And that’s what it came down to. I felt like we had to move forward at that time.”
Fans may never know how much money Smith asked Poles for. It’s fair to assume it was well north of $20 million a year.
A good GM in this league has to have a nuanced approach. He has to know when to give up on a player and sell, and when to take a chance on someone who might have untapped potential. Poles did both of those things over the past 48 hours.
Time will tell if these move pay off. Poles said he looked at these deals separately. He did not feel compelled to trade for Claypool just because he picked up an extra second-round pick in the Smith deal.
“They really were two different things,” he said.
Poles’ ideal approach is to build through the draft. He remains well positioned to add talent next spring. The Bears’ have eight picks, including two fourth-round picks and two fifth-round picks. They could add a compensatory seventh-round pick, but those won’t be announced until March.
The Claypool trade also showed that he’s not unwilling to give up some of that coveted draft capital to get a talented player.
“I’ve really liked the way that our offense is starting to come together and move,” Poles said. “I thought it was important to add another impact player for our offense to go along with the guys that we currently have.”