Schrock: Ballard gives Poles obvious trade target with QB comment originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In the span of 20 minutes Tuesday, Bears general manager Ryan Poles signaled his willingness (likely preference) to trade the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and was given a clear target.
"I think it goes back to what I said about flexibility," Poles said Tuesday at his season-ending press conference. "We can evaluate the talent there, we can see what player presents themselves in that position to help us, and then we can look at the scenarios. If the phones go off and there are certain situations where that can help us, then we’ll go down that avenue too. I think we have really good flexibility to help this team, regardless if it’s making the pick there or moving back a little bit or moving back a lot.
"We’ll be open to everything."
About 15 minutes before Poles officially hung the "Open For Business" sign on the Halas Hall door, Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard took the podium and might as well have written "desperate" across his forehead.
"I failed," Ballard told reporters in Indianapolis. "I'm not going to sit up here and make excuses. I failed a lot of people."
Ballard's failure stems from his inability to find a stable solution at quarterback for a Colts roster that is built to win now.
Ever since Andrew Luck retired, the Colts have cycled through veteran retreads, hoping one could be just good enough to allow them to hang a banner in Lucas Oil Stadium with a little more oomph than "AFC Finalist."
"Looking back on it, when you're changing quarterbacks every year, it's tough," Ballard said. "It's tough on everybody. It's tough on the team. Not getting that position settled has a little something to do with [the Colts' issues]."
Ballard has previously resisted pushing all his chips in on a rookie quarterback.
But after a disastrous 4-12-1 season and with owner Jim Irsay getting impatient, Ballard signaled he would be willing to move heaven and earth to bring that quarterback the Colts need to Indy.
"I'll do whatever it takes," Ballard said. "If we thought there's a player that we're driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better, that's what we would do.
"We understand the importance of the position. To get one that you can win with and to be right is the most important thing -- not if we take one or not. It's being right."
The combination of Ballard owning his failures and admitting he'd pay the price needed for the right guy had to be music to Poles' ears.
Owning the No. 1 pick comes with chatter. A lot of chatter. The Bears had the pick for less than one hour before people wondered if Poles would trade quarterback Justin Fields and draft either Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud to open the 2023 draft.
Poles all but shut that notion down Tuesday while leaving himself enough room to slither out of his comments should the unthinkable happen.
"Yeah," Poles said when asked if Fields would be the Bears' starter in 2023. "We had good conversations. I’m excited for the direction he’s going. As I mentioned before, he knows where he has to improve. I think he mentioned that the other day. We’re excited about his development and where he goes next. He showed ability to be impactful with his legs. There’s flashes with his arm. Now if we can put that together, I think we have something really good.”
The Bears will do their due diligence with every position in this draft class. They'll look at Young and Stroud. They can't leave any stone unturned.
But the Bears have been impressed with Fields' leadership and ability to grow in unideal circumstances this season. They want to see him progress as a passer and are eager to see how he looks with more talent around him next season.
The only way that doesn't come to fruition is if there's someone Poles can't say no to drafting.
"We’re gonna do the same as we’ve always done," Poles said of using the No. 1 pick on a quarterback. "We’re gonna evaluate the draft class, and I would say this: I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision.”
That brings us back to the Colts.
Irsay invested a lot of money in a roster that fell on its face in 2022. Matt Ryan was a disaster, Sam Ehlinger is a career backup, and Nick Foles is toast. Irsay fired everyone he possibly could except Ballard. He brought in Jeff Saturday as an interim head coach to provide a spark. Didn't work.
Now the Colts enter an offseason that will serve as an inflection point for their franchise. Either find a long-term answer at quarterback and hope your highly-paid veteran players rebound in 2023, or prepare to start all over.
For Ballard, this is his job. Much like Ryan Pace drafted Fields in a last-ditch effort to save his hide, Ballard has to pull out all the stops this offseason in the name of self-preservation.
First, he must hire a head coach. Well, Irsay has to do that. Jim Harbaugh feels like a good candidate. He's beloved in Indianapolis, has the NFL bug, and could be facing some sort of discipline over recruiting violations at Michigan.
No matter who is hired, that person will want to enter 2023 with an answer behind center. Could it be Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo? Sure. But the Colts want to get off the retread carousel and find their franchise guy.
With the Houston Texans sitting at No. 2 and a few teams lurking behind them looking to move up, the Colts are in a sticky position. Either they call the Bears and surrender a package that likely includes the No. 4 pick, a second-round pick, and a 2024 first-round pick (perhaps more), or gamble and see if the quarterback they desire makes it to No. 4.
The Texans also provide a nice leverage point for the Bears in potential negotiations with the Colts. Not only does Houston own two first-round picks this season, but they also play in the same division as the Colts. Can Ballard afford to gamble and let a team in his division get first dibs at Young or Stroud?
Poles has all the leverage in potential trade talks, and with a few words Tuesday, Ballard made himself an obvious mark.
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