LAKE FOREST -- General manager Ryan Poles kicked off a whirlwind week for the Bears last Friday when he traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers for the No. 9 pick, No. 61, a 2024 first-round pick, 2025 second-round pick, and wide receiver D.J. Moore.
That deal was the product of two months of smokescreens around the possibility of trading quarterback Justin Fields. Those leaks created leverage as Poles looked to drive the trade price for the No. 1 pick up. It worked. The Bears had conversations with several teams at the NFL Scouting Combine and eventually got the deal they wanted from Carolina.
"That was a long process, lot of twists and turns but we got it done," Poles said Thursday of the trade. "I think both teams got what they wanted out of the deal and we both continued to get better. You know, with that, to add capital this year in the draft as well as the future and set ourselves up with two 1's in '24, I couldn't be happier about that. But then when you add a player like DJ Moore, who can help us right now get better, continue to add weapons on our team. I was over the moon about that."
When asked about the "twists and turns" the trade took, Poles described a hectic few weeks with several teams jumping into the mix.
“Ugh," Poles groaned. "Teams in and out. Conversations where the compensation changed. I mean, I thought it was almost done one day. And then it went longer and it pushed to two to three days. It took a lot of patience but I’m glad we got to where we did.”
The Bears are coming off a 3-14 season and still are on the ground floor of a rebuild. They need a serious talent injection to get this thing off the ground.
Moving down eight spots in the draft is a gamble. But one Poles made because he's confident in his evaluation of the talent that will be available when the Bears go on the clock.
“Yeah, originally, during the combine, I thought there was again, we don’t really talk in rounds, you talk in values and different rounds can be split up different ways," Poles said Thursday. "But really at the top, there was probably six or seven [players they'd take at No.1], so I think that’s where having D.J. Moore part of package really got us over the edge because we knew we were getting a top end player included in that.”
The Bears break down draft classes by color, with "blue" players topping the chart. Poles said Thursday that the group of "six or seven" top-end players includes quarterbacks, even though the Bears were not in the draft market for a signal-caller.
Given that four quarterbacks are expected to go in the top 10, Poles is confident the Bears will get one of the "green" players on their list should they make the selection at No. 9.
That player very well could be Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. Poles announced Thursday that the Bears will host Carter on a pre-draft visit. There are mounting questions about Carter's character. On Thursday, his attorney announced that he entered a plea of no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. Those charges stem from the January 15 crash that claimed the lives of Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting assistant Chandler LeCroy.
Carter was in the conversation to be the No. 1 overall pick until the arrest warrants were dropped during the combine. His draft stock took a hit then and suffered another blow Wednesday when he showed up to his pro day nine pounds heavier and couldn't finish position drills due to cramping and heavy breathing.
Carter could very well slide to nine, and the Bears have a massive need for a game-changing three-technique. The Bears are still on a fact-finding mission as it pertains to Carter. They have six weeks to collect all the intel they can in order to make the right decision at No. 9.
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At the combine, Poles hinted that a deal could happen before unrestricted free agency. While history and conventional wisdom might dictate that the price would go up the longer the Bears made teams sweat, Poles wasn't willing to play around and lose a package that had everything he wanted.
The Bear's general manager wanted to replenish the second-round pick he gave up in the trade for Chase Claypool. He wanted at least one future first-round pick, preferably two. But if he was going to make the deal now, with almost two months to go until the draft, a top-level player had to be involved. If a team was that desperate to have quarterback certainty in early March, Poles would make them pay a premium.
Moore was that premium. With him in the deal, Poles made his move.
“I did," Poles said when asked if he thought about waiting. "And we had a lot of conversations about that. You know. The noise around it was crazy compensation but I think at some point when you feel comfortable with what you’re receiving, you pull the trigger. Sometimes you wait too long and things move on. Trades are hard. When you’re a part of them and they pop up and you’re having those conversations, they’re not comfortable conversations, especially when you’re moving on from a player. So the longer that you’re talking about it and thinking about it, you can start to sway a little bit. So when we hit in a position where I was comfortable, we were good with it.”
A two-month odyssey that started with a gift from Lovie Smith led Poles to Fitterer and a Panthers organization sick of crawling through the quarterback desert.
History will determine whether Poles' move was a stroke of genius or a misstep in his efforts to rebuild the Bears into a perrenial contender.
Hindsight is always 20/20. But Poles is confident he saw the chess board clearly in the moment and got the Bears a package that will be critical to his end goal.
Bringing a championship back to Chicago.