Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles is concentrated on making the franchise better for both the short- and long-term futures, but even he would acknowledge that Ryan Pace left him with a bit of a mess to clean up.
Poles recently spoke with NFL insider Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated about his long-term plans for rebuilding the Bears and fired a subtle shot at his predecessor when he casually mentioned that he is having to “make up for some of the trades” that took place under Pace and his former regime during their seven seasons in Chicago.
“After doing the research with my analytics group, I really wanted it to be a situation where this helps us now but also helps us down the road,” Poles said in Breer’s March 20 column. “Obviously, adding uptick in 2023 was critical, but I also want premium picks, or what could be premium picks in ’24 and ’25, just to continue to add draft capital down the road. That was important, again, just to continue to make up for some of the trades that the organization did before [my time] to try to find a quarterback, and continue to add good players in this draft.”
Ryan Pace Mostly Avoided Draft-And-Develop Route
Most Bears fans who struggled through the Pace era could tell you he was no master of making trades. He was frequently willing to give up the team’s draft capital in order to acquire players he liked, whether they be veterans or rookies higher up on his board. The situation was bad enough that he had two full drafts out of his seven where he had just five total selections. He also did not have a first-round pick in two of his final three as general manager, the exception being in 2021 when he traded up for Justin Fields.
Nothing emphasizes Pace’s inability to commit to the draft-and-develop strategy quite like this: With David Montgomery recently leaving in free agency to sign with the Detroit Lions, there are officially zero remaining members of the Bears’ 2019 draft class. The other four selections were fourth-round wide receiver Riley Ridley (cut in August 2021 before his third season), cornerback Duke Shelley (cut in August 2022 before his fourth season), running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. (cut from the active roster three games into his rookie season) and cornerback Stephen Denmark (failed to make the 53-man roster as a rookie coming out of training camp).
That’s a clear failure of a draft class, even if you could make the argument that Shelley — who shined late in the 2022 season for Minnesota — would have been worth keeping a bit longer. It is also the type of situation that Poles is trying to avoid during his tenure with him focused more on adding draft capital than throwing it away.
Ryan Poles Could Still Add More Picks for 2023
Unlike Pace, Poles has shown a greater tendency to mix things up in trades.
Poles traded star pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers for a 2022 second-round pick (No. 48, used to select strong safety Jaquan Brisker) and a 2023 sixth-rounder (flipped back to the Chargers for two 2022 seventh-rounders) just a few months on the job. He also traded All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2023 second- and fifth-rounder (Nos. 53 and 148) and veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2023 fourth-rounder (No. 133).
At the same time, Poles has also traded to acquire three different wide receivers. He flipped a 2024 seventh-rounder to New England to take a flier on N’Keal Harry; he oversold his 2023 second-rounder (No. 32) for Chase Claypool; and he landed star wideout D.J. Moore from the Carolina Panthers in a deal for the No. 1 overall pick. In other words, he isn’t afraid to go after the talent he wants if the price is right.
All of this leads to a fun guessing game about what Poles could do with his 10 selections in the 2023 draft. There is some speculation that he could move back from the No. 9 overall spot to acquire more picks, ideally on Day 2 of the draft, but he has double picks in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds that could serve as ammunition in the event he decides to trade up for a specific rookie prospect. Whatever happens, it sure seems like it will be a far departure from how Pace ran things during his time.