Ryan Poles betting on himself with Roquan Smith trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Trading Roquan Smith could be viewed as Ryan Poles’ signature move over the early stages of his tenure as Bears GM. This isn’t like trading away Robert Quinn or Khalil Mack. Those two were aging stars whose productive timelines didn’t match up with the Bears’ rebuilding timeline. This isn’t like selecting a cornerback and a safety with his first two picks in his first draft, either. The Bears had plenty of roster holes to fill this offseason, so picks at several different positions would’ve been understandable. This is trading an extremely talented player, in his prime, playing a key position in the defense your new head coach is installing.
Just like Smith bet on himself when decided to decline the Bears’ final contract extension offer and play on the last year of his deal, Poles admitted he’s betting on himself that he’ll be able to find a suitable replacement for Smith by the time the Bears are competing for the postseason.
“I’m the decision maker and a leader and you have to step up and make those decisions,” Poles said. “At the end of the day, if it’s not (a good decision), then it is on me.”
Tackling machines like Smith don’t grow on trees, but there were legitimate questions about Smith’s fit in Matt Eberflus’ and Alan Williams’ defense. At times Smith appeared to be in the wrong place for run fits, or looked a step slow in pass coverage. Yet, playing WILL linebacker at a high level is a tough thing to do. Poles’ challenge now is finding the man who can do that.
It’s far too early to judge Poles as a drafter. His initial draft class has only played eight games, and he will get his first crack at a first-round pick next summer. It’s too early to judge his free agent dealings, too. Poles negotiated free agent contracts in a very disciplined manner last season, and refused to overextend his budget as he tried to reset the team’s salary cap situation. It would be surprising if Poles spent so conservatively again next year.
We’ll all have a close eye on how Poles replaces Smith, and how much he invests into the position. If Smith’s eventual replacement isn’t up to snuff, we’ll have to see how it affects the defense as a whole. If the defense as a whole can’t perform without a solid WILL linebacker, we’ll all wonder what could’ve been if Poles had spent beyond his valuation, just this one time, to make sure a great player stayed in a position of need.
The Bears hired Poles because they believed in his vision of how to build a football team, and his ability to make decisions to execute that vision. Now, with a real marquee move to his name, we’ll see how that bet plays out.
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