General Manager Ryan Poles will be back for his third season in charge of the Chicago Bears personnel. It’s been an eventful tenure. The wins haven’t come yet (10-24), but there is a lot of hope for the Chicago Bears future. So let’s assess Poles’ performance so far as the Bears GM.
The Carolina Panthers Trade
Poles played this almost perfectly. The Bears were never going to pick a QB without giving Justin Fields a third season with a better supporting cast. So Poles traded the first pick to Carolina for the 9th pick, the 61st pick, their 2024 1st, their 2025 2nd, and star WR DJ Moore. A minor nitpick is the Bears should’ve gotten a little more back, like maybe turning the 61st pick into the 39th pick (imagine if the Bears got WR Jayden Reed, a Naperville native in that day 2 haul). But what the Bears did do, was get their QB a bonafide WR1, stay in the top 10, and pick up a lot of future draft capital. And of course, that 2024 1st became the number 1 overall pick, giving the Bears another chance to either pick the best QB in a draft class for the first time ever, one who has a ton of hype in Caleb Williams, or trade that pick for another haul and pick a generational WR in Marvin Harrison Jr while accumulating more picks to build the team around Justin Fields. Poles played that very well, especially after an original double trade-down fell through.
The Montez Sweat Trade
Many said this was a bad move at the time. But those people ignored the fact that Sweat was definitely getting trading on NFL trade deadline day, to some team. The Falcons also offered a 2nd for Sweat, but the Commanders chose the Bears’ 2nd. So no, the Bears couldn’t just wait for Sweat to hit free agency, where he would’ve been the top available DE based on production and age (in prime). The Bears extended him, and another little nitpick is Poles probably could’ve kept the deal at 4 years, $90 million max, but it’s hardly an overpay. Sweat transformed the Bears defense. Poles filled a huge need at DE long-term, and can easily recoup the 2nd rounder he traded away. Don’t listen to Seth Walder or Michael Lombardi; this was a great trade by the Bears and Ryan Poles.
The Robert Quinn Trade
Last nitpick, I promise: Poles probably should’ve traded Quinn in the preseason and he could’ve gotten a 3rd rounder. Regardless, Poles sold and did well to get a 4th rounder for Quinn, who didn’t do much for Philadelphia and has remained unsigned since 2023 free agency. His age caught up to him quite quickly after that amazing 2021 season. Poles didn’t sell at the highest value, but he sold and got a decent pick out of it.
The TJ Edwards signing
Edwards, the hometown kid, was the first signing of the 2023 free agency period, agreeing to a 3 year, $19 million deal. He had a couple of rough games, but Edwards was definitely a bargain for the Bears, giving them solid to elite play at WILL. He was good in both coverage and run support. He prevented YAC at a very high rate. He was 7th in the league with 155 tackles, and had 3 interceptions and 3 sacks, and an 80.2 PFF grade, very high.
The Andrew Billings signing/extension
The Bears rush defense was near the top of the league (7th in rush EPA allowed and success rate allowed), and the main culprit was Billings, the stud NT. It was a signing that didn’t garner much attention, but had big ramifications. The counting stats aren’t there for Billings, but on film he constantly ate up multiple blocks and allowed the linebackers and other defensive linemen to clean up. Without Billings, the Bears rush defense is bad just like it was in 2022, even with the linebacker and defensive line additions otherwise.
The Justin Jones pivot
After the Larry Ogunjobi failed physical, Ryan Poles had to move fast to get a different DT to fill out the starting lineup. Enter Justin Jones on a 2 year, $11 million deal, which he performed up to. Jones has had some splash plays for the Bears, including 8 sacks and 22 TFL in two seasons, and has at least provided some stability on the interior. He may not be back next season, but he will be a solid starter somewhere.
Poles walked into a half finished situation in terms of the secondary already having Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson. But they needed some youth, especially with Kindle Vildor’s struggles. While the resource allocation may have not been the wisest in the 2022 draft (many wanted the Bears to grab a WR like George Pickens to help out Justin Fields in the 2nd round), Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker have proven to be good players. Gordon has quickly risen in the upper echelons of nickel corners, while Brisker has had a huge role in the Bears run defense as a box safety (though his coverage still needs work). In the 2023 draft, Poles drafted Tyrique Stevenson after a mini trade up in the 2nd round, and drafted Terrell Smith in the 5th round. Stevenson was a top 3 rookie corner this season, and Smith played well when injuries hit the CB room. This is the Bears deepest position, and it’s all because of Poles.
Finding Braxton Jones
Jones was picked in the 5th round of the 2022 draft, and immediately came in and won the starting LT job, and has performed admirably and has been very steady there for the Bears. He’s only struggled against elite, star pass rushers, which all tackles do. He’s proven to be at least an average starting tackle in this league, which is so important.
The Darnell Wright selection
Many fans were upset when Poles gave up the 9th pick for the 10th pick and a 4th rounder, allowing the Eagles to draft Jalen Carter. It seems Poles made the right decision, as Wright to me was the best rookie offensive lineman, and will be a star tackle for the Bears for voer a decade, something they haven’t had in a long time. Carter has been very good too, but the value of Wright to the Bears is more than the value of Carter to the Bears. Even with a shoulder injury Wright played well. Outside of a couple of rookie moments, Wright showed he should have been OT1 in the 2023 draft. Poles’ previous experience as an OLineman has helped him find two young tackles and keep Teven Jenkins.
The Gervon Dexter selection
Dexter starting coming along later in the season, starting to play more disciplined against the run, but also putting a lot more pressure on the QB. He was raw coming out, but has already started putting his talent and IQ and film study together. Another year in the system, and another NFL offseason training to improve his get-off speed, and Dexter could quickly find himself to be a very good DT. And he’ll get the reps to do it.
Jack Sanborn/Tyson Bagent, UDFA
Most UDFA who make rosters remain for depth or for special teams purposes. Poles has found two very good UDFA in two years. First there’s Sanborn, who had a very nice rookie year and earned a starting SAM spot this season, and continued to play well, making some wonder why the Bears paid Tremaine Edmunds so much money. Bagent has proven he can be a solid backup QB, which the Bears have now for very cheap, with his quick play ability and swag.
Extending Cairo Santos
Santos continues to be a great kicker for the Bears, and Poles did his job to keep him at a market rate deal, 4 years worth $16 million. And in case Santos suddenly falls off, only two years are guaranteed. But with the Bears kicking struggles between 2016 and 2020 after cutting Robbie Gould, it’s great to have stability there with Cairo Santos.
Hiring Ian Cunningham as assistant GM
Poles brought in the up-and-coming director of player personnel for the Eagles with him to the Bears to be his assistant GM. He has been instrumental in a lot of these moves along with Poles, and has gotten at least 4 GM interviews in the last two years. Bringing along a future GM who teams clearly want is a slam dunk move for a first-time GM. Cunningham will be here for another pivotal offseason, and the more great minds in the front office, the better.
Kmet extension/Edmunds signing/Davis signing: These moves are fine, not spectacular. Kmet had a great season, but I think he got a little overpaid, and shouldn’t have been prioritized over Jaylon Johnson. Edmunds is good, and may be a better schematic fit than Roquan Smith, but not as good and the whole idea was the Bears wouldn’t spend big on LB (though to be fair, the remaining teams in the playoffs have made LB an important position). Davis has been solid but the Bears need a little more from him, especially with his bad play against Green Bay.
Hiring Matt Eberflus
Doug Pederson, Brian Daboll, Mike McDaniel, and Kevin O’Connell were all available to hire, and that doesn’t even include guys who weren’t hired in the 2022 cycle that got hired. Eberflus has been a bad coach thus far. He failed to get an OC to properly develop Justin Fields. He has won 10 games, partly due to a poor team but also largely due to bad game management. He has blown 3 huge leads this season. He is 2-10 against the division. He has had to fire a few members of his staff already. Just a big miss by Poles. Meanwhile, Pederson made the playoffs in 2022 and has helped Trevor Lawrence develop. Daboll took a bad Giants team to the divisional round and made Daniel Jones look good. McDaniel has improved Tua Tagavoiloa significantly and made the playoffs twice. O’Connell has a 20-14 record and a good offensive scheme.
Retaining Matt Eberflus
The head coaching candidate pool was huge. Jim Harbaugh. Bill Belichick. Mike Vrabel. Ben Johnson. Bobby Slowik. Mike MacDonald. Brian Callahan. And more. But Poles decided to hitch his wagon to a 10-24 coach who failed to develop a young QB once, to likely try again. Maybe Eberflus ends up like Sean McDermott and Dan Campbell. But I wouldn’t bet on it, especially when those names, especially Harbaugh, were available. A missed opportunity to reset the HC-QB pairing with an elite duo. At least they got a top OC in Shane Waldron.
The Chase Claypool Trade
This was Poles trying to make up for failing to get Fields legitimate support in the offseason in 2022, not drafting a guy like George Pickens, signing failures in Byron Pringle, and failing to trade for Amari Cooper. So he traded what turned into the 32nd pick without the 5th year option for Chase Claypool, who was known to have character and attitude problems (problems that stopped Poles from picking George Pickens in the first place). Claypool played like a small receiver despite his frame, refused to block, and the Bears offense was much better when he was not on the field. The Bears got 19 catches, 191 yards and a TD out of him before they offloaded him to Miami.
Selecting Velus Jones Jr
VJJ was just a bad move from the start. He was already 25 coming into the league. He barely ran anything besides screens and verticals as routes at Tennessee. He was explosive for sure, but more like a gimmick guy you draft late instead of in the third round when you need a legitimate WR. Romeo Doubs and Khalil Shakir were drafted the next day. If it was a weaker WR class, Poles should have just grabbed Pickens, as he had two opportunities to do so. Jones has struggled with drops, fumbles, and muffing punts. He only has some value on kick returns. There’s a very good chance he is not on the roster in 2024. Hopefully this ends up as Ryan Poles’ worst draft pick.
Failing to give Justin Fields a good supporting cast in 2022
This goes hand in hand with most other bad moves. Justin Fields was left to fend for himself in 2022. Besides the good RB duo of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, he had no WRs who would be considered a top 3 WR on any other roster besides Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet was still unproven, and the OL was a mess, especially at C, RG, and RT. Plus Luke Getsy at OC. Fields bailed the Bears out so many times with his legs, but the personnel around him and coaching made him develop bad habits that reared their head in 2023, as teams played more zone against the Bears and forced Fields to beat them from the pocket, which he didn’t do consistently enough, and I blame Poles, Eberflus, and Getsy for that far more than JF1.
Signing Lucas Patrick/mismanaging the center position
Patrick was brought in to help Luke Getsy install his system, but he was a disaster at both center and guard. Between Patrick, Sam Mustipher who was even worse, and Cody Whitehair who can’t snap properly, Poles failed to get the center position sorted, and it through off timing of so many plays due to bad snaps, or Fields couldn’t consistently step into throws due to interior pressure.
Trading Roquan Smith
The move made sense, due to Smith not playing as well in Eberflus’s scheme and the Bears rebuild, but Poles made a couple of mistakes. First, he should’ve gotten more for such an elite ILB, than just a 2nd and a 5th. Second, he should’ve used the money saved on the trenches or another WR, instead of using most of it to pay another ILB in Tremaine Edmunds just because he fit better. At that point, just keep the homegrown talent. Roquan Smith is now leading the best defense in the league for the 2nd time in his career.
Letting David Montgomery walk
This didn’t seem like a bad decision at the time, but the Bears probably wish they gave Montgomery 3 years, $17 million now. He was instrumental to Detroit’s offense, averaging 4.6 YPC, a career-high, and being a good pass blocker as always. Montgomery was the perfect complement for Khalil Herbert, and the Bears struggled to get the same elite rushing production, between injuries and Foreman and Roschon Johnson struggling.
Khalil Mack Trade
Similar to the Roquan Smith thing. Mack was getting older so it made sense to move him as the Bears stated a rebuild. But Poles should have gotten more than a 2nd and a 6th. Don’t sell just to sell, even if you are rebuilding. Mack had 17 sacks this season; he remains an elite force in both the rushing game and the passing game. That’s worth more than a 2nd and a 6th.
PJ Walker Signing
Poles lost some money here as Walker got cut after preseason, losing the backup QB job to Tyson Bagent. In hindsight, a guy with such a bad TD:INT ratio shouldn’t have been signed to be Fields’ backup just because he was mobile and had a strong arm. They should’ve targeted a better, more accomplished veteran backup.
Poles definitely deserves a third season, especially to see out the Panthers trade after he got the first pick. His good moves far outweigh the bad. But with his decision to stick with Matt Eberflus, if things don’t go well (Bears get at least 7 wins in 2024), the inevitable Eberflus firing will put Poles on the hotseat as well. Regardless of what he does at QB, where I believe there are no bad moves, Poles has hitched his wagon to a head coach who has struggled so far, and if he continues to do so, Chicago will become impatient with his rebuild, even if a rookie QB like Caleb Williams is at the helm. I believe in Ryan Poles, and believe he will get the Bears to the promise land, but if there isn’t improvement in 2024, like there was in 2023, there will be a lot of questions.