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Dan Wiederer: Why Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles figures to be the busiest man at the NFL combine. Again.

Here we are again. Back so soon. Heading back to the NFL scouting combine and inside a hectic hive of league activity, with Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles figuring to be the busiest bee of all.

Just two weeks after Poles’ former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, won their second consecutive Super Bowl and third in five seasons, the Bears return to Indianapolis this week, working through Poles’ master plan to one day lay claim to that confetti-littered stage.

Poles and his crew are well down the road of envisioning ideal strategies for this upcoming roster-building cycle. But the Bears are also aware of the fluidity of everything at this time of year and must devise contingency plans to help create sustainable success.

One thing is certain: The rest of the NFL’s eyes remain glued to Poles, especially this week. All parties are fascinated to interpret what his next moves will be, feel out his asking price for current QB1 Justin Fields and gauge how he feels about USC standout Caleb Williams and the rest of this quarterback draft class.

“The Bears are in a really good position,” one longtime NFL coach said. “I mean really good. Regardless of what they decide to do at quarterback, they’re at a meaningful stage of their building process with some truly valuable resources to really build.”

That sentiment is shared throughout league circles. The Bears are widely viewed as a team nearing a springboard after making meaningful improvement in 2023.

Don’t forget, they won their final five home games last season. They became more tenacious and opportunistic on defense. They have a growing core of offensive difference makers, with many around the league admiring the upward arcs of wide receiver DJ Moore, offensive tackle Darnell Wright and versatile tight end Cole Kmet.

On top of all that, the Bears are storming into this potentially landmark offseason financially equipped to attack free agency while also holding two top-10 draft picks — including No. 1.

If Poles plays his cards right, he can put a turbo boost into the franchise’s championship pursuit.

And if fans in Chicago can stop their QB bickering long enough to look around, they might see that the Bears seem to be accelerating up the on-ramp toward competitive relevance.

‘The risk of inaction’

At the center of all of this, of course, is that little matter of who the quarterback will be in 2024 and beyond. That’s the crux of Poles’ Choose Your Own Adventure, a decision-making dilemma that has set social media and sports debate shows on fire on a daily basis.

Inside the league, though, a consensus has formed that the Bears likely will trade Fields and draft Williams. That has been widely identified as Poles’ most logical and prudent option — assuming he doesn’t identify serious concerns in the character judgment of Williams.

Simply put: Now is the right time and right situation for the Bears, the perfect opportunity for a relatively low-cost dice roll to add a high-upside quarterback on a rookie deal to a competitive roster. There’s a chance for the Bears not only to open a window of meaningful contention but to securely prop it up for the rest of the decade. And, yes, that may mean moving on from Fields, who is respected inside the locker room and quite popular with many fans.

“The thing that’s fascinating to me is not the risk of action. It’s the risk of inaction,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “That’s the best way for me to say it. With Caleb, people may focus on: ‘Oh, well, nothing’s a slam dunk. You can trade No. 1 and get all these picks (back) and do all these other things with your roster.’ But to me? I’m not so sure the risk of passing on Caleb Williams isn’t far greater than the risk of taking him.”

That’s how much talent and potential that evaluators see in Williams.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM and SiriusXM analyst Mark Dominik understands the attraction to Williams. Still, Dominik would advise the Bears that, with whatever decision they make at quarterback, they first hold detailed, healthy debates that center on one critical question: What makes us best for the long haul?

“Because the grass isn’t always greener,” Dominik said. “Still, I think in these times we’re living where we’re in this quarterback world, you have to find the guy who’s going to make a difference for you. And I think as talented as Justin Fields can be, he has a lot of time under his belt already and has not gotten the Bears to where they probably thought they would be.”

Deal or no deal?

A year ago at the combine, while meeting with fellow league executives inside his hotel room, Poles began getting positive vibes on how much he could pull in by trading the No. 1 pick. He sensed a bit of desperation from the Carolina Panthers with fickle owner David Tepper seemingly on an urgent quest to find his forever quarterback and pushing then-GM Scott Fitterer to make something big happen.

Ultimately, things fell into place perfectly for the Bears. Four days after the combine wrapped, Poles dealt the Panthers the No. 1 pick in exchange for Moore, the No. 9 pick, second-round selections in 2023 and 2025 and Carolina’s first-round pick in 2024.

Lo and behold, from that overflowing gift basket, the 2024 first-rounder crystallized into the No. 1 pick. Which now gives Poles and the Bears a chance to really cash in.

“(Poles) deserves kudos for putting them in this position,” the longtime coach said. “The moves he made a year ago have paved them a nice path to make the decisions they have to make now.

“No one can sit here and promise you they’ll make the perfect move. But they are in a perfect position.”

Now Poles must navigate another exhausting and purpose-filled itinerary at this week’s combine to maximize his time and align the organization to make a series of sound decisions. He will have to solicit inquiries and offers on Fields while also being open-minded to the possibility of some team making him an offer he can’t refuse for the No. 1 pick.

Intriguing options

If it were only the quarterback conundrum Poles had to concern himself with, he already would have a full plate. But the Bears also have the No. 9 selection in this talent-rich draft.

That leaves Poles with some incredibly intriguing options. Perhaps he can add a dynamic receiver such as Rome Odunze or Malik Nabers to the offense. Or maybe he’ll snag a disruptive pass rusher such as Laiatu Latu. Or offensive line help in the form of a sturdy left tackle such as Olu Fashanu.

There’s also the matter of free agency. Poles will use this week to further the Bears’ surveillance of that landscape and apply think-big vision to determine how best to utilize their salary-cap space.

The first order of business might push Poles into accelerating extension talks with cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s camp, working to build a bridge toward a deal that rewards Johnson for his Pro Bowl season in 2023 while locking him in as part of the defensive nucleus for the near future. (The Bears have the franchise tag in their back pocket as insurance that Poles’ public promise in January — “Jaylon is not going to go anywhere” — is kept.)

Beyond Johnson’s situation, the Bears must explore free-agent options at center, safety, wide receiver and running back.

‘Everyone knows who I am’

There’s also the process of assembling a full draft class beyond the first round. The Bears hold additional selections in Rounds 3, 4 (two) and 5.

So, yes, paying close attention to the on-field drills at Lucas Oil Stadium will be critical. Poles and his staff also will have to maximize the 18 minutes per prospect they are afforded this week for formal interviews with up to 45 combine participants.

At some point, who knows? Maybe there will be a small break for Poles to grab a meal or get some sleep. Then again, maybe not.

A year ago, during NFL Network’s dayslong broadcast from the combine, the television cameras continually found Poles inside Lucas Oil Stadium while analysts talked about how the Bears GM had significant control over the league’s 2023 offseason.

All that cap space! The prize of the No. 1 pick! What might he do?

The excessive TV time eventually became a bit annoying to Poles, who acknowledged the attention fatigue a month later.

“It was like, ‘All right, we get the point. Everyone knows who I am now,’” he said.

That was a force-fed taste of life on center stage. But it also might have been a good conditioning exercise.

During March and April last year, Poles lost sleep and did more than his fair share of pacing. He felt the weight of his responsibilities plus a self-driven pressure to maximize every opportunity. He reminded himself to be detailed and disciplined while balancing urgency with patience.

Poles periodically consulted his sports psychologist “just to get things off my chest” during what became the most demanding period of his professional life.

During rare moments of detachment, he pounded golf balls into a simulator screen or went to his kids’ sporting events for stress relief. It was a real whirlwind.

All of that, though, may have been child’s play compared with what the coming weeks hold. A lot is at stake for the Bears, and a handful of pivotal decisions are closing in fast.

Still, this is the kind of moment Poles has long coveted, the chance to craft a vision, then make his moves. By necessity, that life will be frenzied.

It will be particularly so this week at the combine, one of the most critical offseason stops in this pressure-packed but opportunity-filled journey.