Caleb Williams-Bears unstoppable union comes into focus in several ways at NFL meetings

Caleb Williams-Bears unstoppable union comes into focus in several ways at NFL meetings originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

ORLANDO -- Bears general manager Ryan Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus, president Kevin Warren, and chairman George McCaskey did their best to stay on message at this week's annual NFL league meetings when asked about their plans for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

But even as the Bears' power brokers tried to lean on "due diligence" and the need to continue to gather information, they couldn't keep their poker faces from cracking when discussing presumptive No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams.

"We're going to continue the process," general manager Ryan Poles said Monday in Orland. "Like I said, we're gonna go to LSU right from here. We'll continue to evaluate everybody. As I said before, we gain clarity as we move forward, which is a good thing, but we also want to make sure that we continue and finish the process with the rest of the class, too."

It's Williams and the rest of the class.

Poles, Eberflus, and the rest of the offensive brain trust spent two days with Williams in Los Angeles before USC's Pro Day. They parachuted in to get eyes on Michigan's J.J. McCarthy. They'll head to LSU's Pro Day to see Jayden Daniels. They'll send a group to North Carolina to watch Drake Maye, but it won't include Poles.

Those cursory visits are just box-checking exercises as far as the quarterback prospects.

Poles and his staff will watch Daniels closely at LSU. But they'll also get eyes on wide receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. Michigan has a handful of pros outside of McCarthy worth studying. North Carolina has Maye and wide receiver Devontez Walker. If the Bears aren't interested in Maye, and by all accounts they haven't been throughout the process, a big contingent is unnecessary.

"When you talk to his teammates, they don't like him, they love him," Poles said about what he's learned about Williams during the process. "His leadership, how he brings people together. He's intentional with his leadership. Same goes with the staff. I'm having a hard time finding a person that doesn't like him or even love him and thinks that he can reach the highest limits. The feedback's been good."

Throughout the three days in Orlando, the Bears couldn't help but talk about Williams as if he's already a Bear. For all intents and purposes, he is.

"We’ll just continue on with some of the install that we installed there in the pro day," Eberflus said when asked about Williams' upcoming visit to Halas Hall. "We’ll keep continuing on that journey, teaching him more of the offense and then having him give it back to us and see where he is that way. He’s been great that way. Again, spend some more time visitng with him. He’ll get a chance to spend some more time with the offensive staff that wasn’t there at the pro day. It’s gonna be good."

Continuing that journey.

The Bears and Williams are on a journey together. One the Bears cemented when Poles traded quarterback Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick.

For the Bears, everything leads to Williams.

Everyone knows it.

"[The NFL wants] the suspense, but I think this one's, it's like when the Colts took Andrew Luck. Everybody knew that," Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said on "The Pat McAfee Show" about the Bears and Caleb Williams.

"The draft starts at No. 2. No one knows what Washington is going to do," a league executive told NBC Sports Chicago this week. "The Bears could probably start selling Williams jerseys if the league would let them."

Even Williams struggled to maintain the facade that his NFL fate might be different after his pro-day workout last week.

"I wouldn't say it's my full expectation," Williams told NFL Media's Steve Wyche after his workout when asked if he expects to be drafted by the Bears. "Obviously, things can happen. Things can change. I think it's around 33 days or so, 30 days, until April 25. A lot can change. You take it day by day. Handle and control what you can control."

Later when asked about new Bears wide receiver Keenan Allen showing up to watch his workout, Williams slipped up discussing Chicago's acquisition of the veteran receiver.

"That was great," Williams told Wyche about Allen. "I’ve known Keenan for a little bit now, hung out. He was at the Chargers. Now he’s at the Bears, he’s here for a fourth round pick, which is crazy. He’s a beast, a good guy, and he can give you a lot of knowledge."

He's here.

Caleb Williams is the Bears' future. A potential franchise-changer that will serve as the key foundational piece of what has been an impressive rebuild effort by Poles.

Poles understands everything that had to go right for the Bears to land in a position to draft Williams. General managers lose sleep over decisions they want back. But what haunts Poles is how things might look if the Bears' moment -- one headlined by Williams -- wasn't arriving.

“We’re super fortunate," Poles told NBC Sports Chicago. "What keeps me up at night is really reflecting on what – what would this look like if some of the things didn’t line up? If Houston doesn’t throw the Hail Mary to win that game when they really didn’t need to [in Week 18 of the 2022 season]. You know, Carolina coming up short in a few games that gives you the first overall pick back. Then, what we believe is a talented draft class to kind of match where our picks are. We’re really, really fortunate and things are lining up the right way."

It all lines up for Williams to be a Bear when Chicago goes on the clock on April 25.

When the Bears return to Chicago, they'll break up into groups and wargame the draft. But that process will focus on the looming decision at No. 9 and whether to prioritize wide receiver, offensive tackle, or edge rusher.

There will be no war game process for the No. 1 pick.

The Bears zeroed in on Williams early in the pre-draft process and haven't strayed from that course.

Barring an unforeseen red flag, Caleb Williams will be a Bear. Roger Goodell might not even need to announce it.

The Bears did that this week as they tried to bottle up and hide their excitement for what's on the horizon: Caleb Williams and an era of Bears football that should be different than any that has come before.

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