10 takeaways from Bears GM Ryan Poles at NFL Scouting Combine
The NFL Scouting Combine kick off this week as some of the nation’s top prospects descend upon Indianapolis with the chance to impress some prospective teams ahead of the 2023 NFL draft.
They’ll be under the watchful eyes of general managers, head coaches and scouts alike, including Bears GM Ryan Poles, who is in possession of the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Poles met with the media on Tuesday morning, where he fielded a number of questions about the state and future of the team. Poles was actually quite open when it came to addressing different topics, ranging from the No. 1 pick to salary cap space to Fields discussion.
From his ideal draft scenario to Fields’ future, here’s what we learned from Poles’ press conference at the combine:
Bears could deal the No. 1 pick before free agency
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The Bears are at the center of the 2023 NFL Draft discussion as they hold all the cards with the No. 1 pick. Poles confirmed that they’re looking to trade back, which could happen sooner than expected.
Poles said there are “some scenarios” where Chicago could look to trade back from the first overall pick before free agency begins next month, if they ultimately decide to deal the pick.
“A clearer view of what we need,” Poles said, “and there are some scenarios to add players as well, which gives us clarity for what we need to add in the draft.”
So not only are we talking about landing draft picks but potentially impact players at positions of need.
Poles' ideal situation is to trade back
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In what won’t come as a shock to most, the Bears are looking to trade back from the first overall selection, as perfectly timed by Adam Schefter’s report on Monday.
While Poles isn’t ruling out staying put at No. 1, he did say the ideal situation is to trade back but it “just depends on how far back.”
You’d have to assume that the Bears would prefer to trade back inside the top four with the Texans or Colts, which still lands them additional picks but also gives them a shot at Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter or Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.
Bears remain committed to Justin Fields - for now
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Not much has changed since Poles expressed his commitment to Fields during his end of year press conference in January, where he said he’d have to be “blown away” to consider taking a quarterback at first overall.
The plan “right now” is for Fields to be the starting quarterback in 2023, where the Bears will look to build around him. But Poles is still going to do his due diligence on the quarterbacks in this draft class, which is what a good GM should do. Poles said he’s communicating with Fields throughout the process.
While the Bears have been receiving interest for the No. 1 pick in the draft, he said no teams have called about Fields’ availability in a potential trade.
Poles will do his homework on this QB draft class
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All signs point toward the Bears moving forward with Fields as their starting quarterback in 2023, but Poles isn’t ruling anything out this early. It’s his job to do homework on the top quarterbacks in this class, which includes Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud. It’s exactly what Chicago should do as they sit atop the draft.
But what exactly would it take for Poles to be “blown away” by another quarterback?
“When you watch them over and over and go, ‘Wow. That’s different,'” he said.
The Bears are expected to meet with the top quarterbacks during the combine this week. But that doesn’t mean they’re moving on from Fields.
Bears want to strike a balance with free agency
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When you look at it, the Bears essentially control this 2023 offseason. Not only do they have the top pick in the draft, they have more than $100 million in salary cap space, which is the most in the league by a wide margin.
But that doesn’t mean Chicago is going to go crazy in free agency. In fact, Poles said the team is looking to strike a balance with their immense cap space during free agency.
“Take advantage of now, but also not hurt you down the road,” he said.
With so many holes — including need for starters along the defensive and offensive lines, as well as a WR1, linebacker and cornerback — the Bears will be making plenty of moves. But they’re going to be smart about it.
“We don’t want to waste this opportunity and do something that’s not sound and doesn’t allow us the flexibility of years to come,” he said.
Poles said they have the money to bring in the right type of players that fit what they’re looking for, both from a culture and on-field aspect.
What Poles is looking for in a defensive lineman
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No doubt the Bears’ biggest need is along the defensive line, which was the worst unit in the NFL last season. They’re essentially looking to replace all four starters — both off the edge and along the interior.
It’s a position that will be addressed both in free agency and the draft, where there’s a wealth of options among veterans and incoming rookies.
As for what Poles is looking for from defensive linemen, he noted three key traits: “Violence. Tenacity. Length.”
As it pertains to the draft, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter and Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. are likely options for Chicago, even if they trade back from No. 1 (assuming they stay inside the top four), and they seem to fit the bill.
Poles is always looking to add to the offensive line
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The offensive line is another focal point this offseason, where you could make the argument that they should find five new starting linemen. Certainly, it depends on how guys like Braxton Jones and Teven Jenkins factor into things.
But Poles, as a former offensive lineman, said he’s always looking to add to the offensive line. If there are clear upgrades at certain positions, he won’t hesitate to add them to the roster.
Poles said he’s “keeping an open mind” on whether Jones stays at left tackle, an indication changes could be coming.
There are some intriguing options both in free agency and the NFL draft, whether it’s at tackle, center or guard. Reports have indicated Chicago will be active in pursuing offensive linemen during free agency.
No updates on David Montgomery
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The Bears’ top pending free agent is running back David Montgomery, who’s been a key contributor on offense since being drafted in 2019.
Back in January, Poles made it clear he’d like to bring back Montgomery in 2023.
“I’ve always wanted to keep David,” Poles said back in January. “I love his mentality, how he plays the game. I told him that to his face. “He’s part of the identity that we had this year that kept us competitive.”
But it’s also a matter of whether both sides can find common ground on an extension, as we see transpire with the Roquan Smith situation.
Poles said his feelings about Montgomery haven’t changed, and re-signing him is still in the cards. But they’re going to go through the process and see what happens.
Eddie Jackson will be with Bears in 2023
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Safety Eddie Jackson is coming off an impressive season with the Bears, where he looked more like the playmaker we saw in his first couple of seasons.
Jackson led the Bears with four interceptions, as well as 80 combined tackles, including one for a loss, six pass breakups and led the team with two forced fumbles. And that in 12 games before suffering a season-ending foot injury.
But Jackson does boast a $17.09 million salary cap hit. Still, it doesn’t seem like that’s a factor in his returning to the team in 2023.
Poles said he’s excited about the progress Jackson made last year with “tackling and taking the ball away,” and the plan is for Jackson to be back — alongside star rookie Jaquan Brisker — at safety.
Ian Cunningham's return is integral
One of the biggest offseason moves to happen so far for the Bears is the return of assistant GM Ian Cunningham, who was a hot commodity during the GM hiring cycle.
Cunningham ultimately turned down an offer for the Cardinals GM position and elected to remain as the Bears assistant GM alongside Poles.
As for what Cunningham’s return means for this franchise, it’s important to maintain continuity in what’s gearing up to be a franchise-altering offseason.
“Stability,” Poles said. “I’m happy for him and the opportunities he did have through that process. … For us with the Bears, we’re in a really good situation with him in the front office.”
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