Ryan Poles Caught Us All Napping…Again

I wanted to steer clear of the Justin Fields/Caleb Williams debate, but then Ryan Poles traded a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Chargers for WR Keenan Allen, and well, the argument has once again reared its ugly head. Let’s talk about Allen first, and what he means to Chicago’s offense.

By the way, I love Poles’ ability to pillage cap-strapped teams. He’s a true mercenary in that respect. The wide receiver would have held a $23 million 2024 cap hit against the Chargers. The Bears had the third most cap room in the league before the trade, and with Allen rostered still are about $34 million under the cap.

Poles wanted an explosive offense to pair with an emerging defense, and he’s done just that. He also turned what had been a relatively boring offseason into straight fire with one, bold move. On the flip side, he’s diluted his 2024 draft to just four selections.

  • R1P1
  • R1P9
  • R3P75
  • R4P122

Yup, that’s it. Four picks. Needless to say, Poles is expected to trade down from any of those picks to acquire more draft assets. He has become a master of the unexpected, stealth acquisition. In other words, he caught us napping once again.

If you’re wondering about rookie cap space, Over the Cap and Sportrac provide the answer. The effective cap space needed for this year’s draft is equal to: Rookie Pool – ($795,000 * number of picks).

  • R1P1: $7,007,431 – $795,000 = $6,212,431
  • R1P9: $4,041,877 – $795,000 = $3,246,877
  • R3P75: $1,067,784 – $795,000 = $272,784
  • R4P122: $976,943 – $795,000 =  $181,943

That totals $9,914,035, leaving Poles plenty of wiggle room to move up or down in the draft. Then again, Poles could be effectively “drafting” his team by trading his picks. ESPN’s Courtney Cronin breaks it down nicely.

Allen had a better year than D.J. Moore, believe it or not, but he’ll be 32 when the Bears take the field for their Week 1 tilt against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. He caught 108 of 150 targets in 13 games last year, including seven scores. He’s also in the final year of his contract. The Bears are loaded, and any quarterback would love to run Shane Waldron’s offense this season. Will it be Fields, Williams, or someone else? Nobody is sure, including the meathead know-it-alls who have turned the debate into a civil war.

The trade gives Poles a bevy of options and a chance to be as aggressive as possible.

He could trade the No. 1 to the Commanders, and then the No. 2 to the Patriots, and then the No. 3 to whoever wants the best available quarterback or wide receiver, and then he could theoretically trade down again. The return on last year’s number one pick is already comical with more to come.

  1. Moore.
  2. Darnell Wright.
  3. Allen.
  4. Tyrique Stevenson.
  5. The top pick in this year’s draft.
  6. A second-round pick in next year’s draft.
  7. Any future acquisitions they get if they trade the top pick.
  8. Any subsequent acquisitions each time Poles trades down.

The prevailing thought is that Poles has set himself up nicely to trade down from the ninth pick, but that means selecting Williams first overall. The only problem I see with that option is handing the keys to a high-powered offense to a rookie, and also, I don’t think Williams wants to play for the Bears. I know he’s publicly stated that he does, but he kind of has to say that. His actions might mean he’d prefer that the team trade that pick.

Poles would have liked to complete his due diligence ahead of the free agent signing period, but Williams won’t allow that until his March 20 Pro Day. Had the QB come to Chicago when Poles invited him, Chicago’s GM would likely have traded Fields by this point, giving his front office extra assets to provide his soon-to-be rookie starting quarterback. Then again, we don’t know if Fields has a market at all. The quarterback carousel has been insane in the last week, yet Fields remains a Bear. So maybe it doesn’t matter, but it is worth pondering.

I’m not here to bash Williams, and I think he’s gifted and will be an exceptional NFL quarterback. I do stop short of calling him “generational” because nothing indicates to me he will be as successful as Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Kelly, Roger Staubach, and Fran Tarkenton. Those men earned that label, Williams has not. Still, I believe his priorities, in order, are going 1.01, playing for the Commanders, and then playing for anybody else. There is nothing wrong with that, by the way. We should all want that kind of flexibility when entering the job market.

I don’t read tea leaves nor do I make assumptions when it comes to Chicago’s front office. That said, it looks like Poles is taking a different route toward a similar haul he got from Carolina last year. He got an elite wide receiver and will acquire extra draft picks by trading down from the first and/or ninth selections. If you’re a Panthers fan, you’ve got to hate the Bears more than any team in the NFL right now.

The Commanders made an interesting trade Thursday and could be acquiring assets for what is said to be the Godfather haul that Poles wants for the No. 1 selection. Washington sent quarterback Sam Howell and fourth- and sixth-round picks to the Seahawks for third- and fifth-round picks. The Commanders now own six of the top 100 picks, and if they want Williams, they have the requisite capital in place to complete a trade.

I’m not insinuating the Bears will trade that top pick. They could decide on Williams as soon as next week, though there’s a chance they might not. The Bears were sold on Wright last year, but still asked him to return for a final evaluation. I don’t believe Williams will do that this year if Poles asks him to. If Poles isn’t sold on Williams next week, the pick will be in play. Chicago’s GM will never reveal his hold cards, however, so expect the compliments and accolades to flow freely from Halas Hall. That won’t quiet the trade Fields crowd, will it?

There’s another thing to consider, though it’s not much more than a nuanced afterthought. Poles did not draft Fields so he has yet to start his GM clock. He’s transitioning into Year 3 of his rebuild, and he is making strong moves to remake the team in his identity. Adding Allen to this roster signals that he wants to compete for a division title this year. Can he do that with a rookie signal caller?

When he essentially traded Bryant Young to the Panthers last year, he intended to provide Fields with the proper weaponry to succeed. The only thing that changed that calculus is that Carolina screwed the pooch and finished with the NFL’s worst record, making Williams a viable draft candidate.

The Bears are also seeking continuity on their roster, coaching staff, and front office. Like most quarterbacks, including Williams, Fields has positives and negatives, but they’re much more amplified because of this quarterback-heavy draft. Williams and Fields share several similar traits.

In fact, if the Bears were sitting lower in the draft we might not be having this daily quarterback debate. If Poles had to consider trading up, he wouldn’t have traded for Allen, Ryan Bates, and Montez Sweat. The correct course of action would have been to give Fields at least one more year instead of going chips in to trade for the top pick. Carolina gave Poles the gift that keeps on giving, however. No team would trade Williams for Young straight up, yet the Panthers gave the Bears Moore, and, well, much more.

We do know that Poles prefers to take the best player available on his board or to trade down. We also know he has to be 100% sold on a rookie quarterback to select him in the first round, so Williams will have to floor Poles to convince him to pass on a potential draft bonanza. The Bears have done a nice job of narrowing their needs with the acquisitions of Allen, Bates, D’Andre Swift, Gerald Everett, Kevin Byard, Matt Pryor, and Jonathan Owens. They still need an edge rusher, a center, and offensive line depth. They also need a quarterback if you’re convinced Fields isn’t the answer.

In that respect, trading down from No. 9 makes a lot more sense. If Williams flops, however, Poles is cooked and the Bears have to tear it all down again with a new GM, head coach, and the next potential franchise QB. Most analysts believe Williams is the real deal, however, and that Chicago would be insane to go in a different direction. I like Fields and Williams equally, but I also believe Jayden Daniels will be the best quarterback to emerge from this draft. Why?

  1. He was developed well in his senior season.
  2. His deep ball accuracy is impressive.
  3. He’s shown immense improvement as a pocket passer, both in working through his progressions and getting the ball out to the right receiver.
  4. Daniels does a good job of protecting the football as a runner and avoids interceptions.
  5. He’s a dynamic player and a lethal point producer.
  6. Daniels reminds me more of Mahomes than Williams or Drake Maye.
  7. Finally, Daniels possesses the one trait that will make him successful in Waldron’s offense: He has a tremendous dual-threat skill set. Fields and Williams are comparable to Daniels in that respect.

If the Bears can’t trade Fields, shuttling that top pick could be a savvy move. Selecting Daniels to back up Fields for a year is not something I’d be opposed to. Poles would get another bounty, a potential successor to Fields, and the opportunity to stick it to the Panthers again in 2025 and 2026.

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