The NFL held its annual meetings this week in Palm Beach, Fla., as teams continue to build their rosters and evaluate prospects for the April 28-30 draft in Las Vegas. Brad Biggs answers reader questions about new Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ approach to building the roster, the offensive line and more in this week’s mailbag.
While I can see the potential benefit of the Bears going young and cheap on defense in 2022 and trusting Matt Eberflus’ ability to “coach ‘em up,” I’m skeptical applying the same strategy to the offense does much to empower Justin Fields. Even if rumors are true Ryan Poles isn’t all-in on his inherited QB1, any quarterback the Bears play is going to need strong offensive line play and legitimate weapons to throw to. It’s almost as if Poles is taking the anti-Miami Dolphins approach and daring Fields to elevate a subpar roster by dint of his talent alone. I would argue the Bears largely botched Fields’ development in 2021. Will 2022 be more of the same? — David D., Arlington Heights
Poles has been positive in his assessment of Fields’ talent and hopes that in a new system and with a rapidly evolving roster the quarterback can take positive steps in Year 2. Poles echoed that when he spoke Monday afternoon from the NFL meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., and was asked about moves that have or have not been made to support the quarterback.
“It’s a difficult challenge,” he said. “But I think as a whole with the scheme, with coaching, with some of the additions we’ve had, it’s going to get better. He’s going to be put in a situation where he’s going to be comfortable, and I’ve said this all the way back to the very beginning, allowing him to do what he does best is going to allow him to grow from that point.
“I want to give him everything I possibly can, but you still have to construct an entire team. You can’t go blank in one area and then just load up in one area. So we’re always going to be aggressive to get him the tools he needs to be successful. It’s just the timing and the talent level and the cap situation — all of those are going to dictate when we can go and when we can’t go. But what we’ve done so far is at least establish a little bit of growth in the roster, plus the scheme, with the coaching, I see him getting better even from what we did right now.”
Coach Matt Eberflus followed Tuesday morning saying he expects to see a much improved quarterback, which is a positive because it was a rough ride for Fields as a rookie.
“The development of him for the second year should be a big jump,” Eberflus said. “It should be. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for better technique, better fundamentals, better decision-making, better timing, everything. He’s all on board on that. He’s excited about where he is and he’s been working his tail off. That’s what we want, just that big jump from Year 1 to Year 2.”
It’s true that Poles isn’t invested in Fields like Ryan Pace would have been had the Bears not made a change in general managers. But nothing will make Poles’ rebuilding effort more successful and easier than if Fields breaks through and becomes the quarterback Pace and former coach Matt Nagy envisioned when he was drafted.
From that standpoint, it would be easier for Poles to move on from Fields because he didn’t package the capital needed to trade up and draft him. But the Bears aren’t there or anywhere near that point. They’re interested in seeing what he can do. The collection of wide receivers available in free agency wasn’t great, and I think the Bears made a decision to not overpay players who would have difficulty producing to the level of their contract. There’s still a lot of work to do at that position, and I would expect the Bears to add a draft pick(s) and another free agent or two to the mix.
The Bears have been busy on the offensive line. Lucas Patrick isn’t a splashy addition, but it’s a start, and the team will expect more from Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom in Year 2 as well. If Fields has star potential, he’ll look significantly different this season with the cast of players around him. If he’s a future franchise quarterback, he’ll function with the roster that is assembled. If he can’t, maybe he’s not the long-term answer.
At some point doesn’t Ryan Poles need to be questioned as to why he’s mostly signing backups and only from a couple of the teams they have ties to. Ultimately they’re still backups — Byron Pringle (Kansas City Chiefs-GM), Equanimeous St. Brown (Green Bay Packers-offensive coordinator), Al-Quadin Muhammed (Indianapolis Colts-coach), Lucas Patrick (Packers-OC). – Mike H.
Poles faced a lot of questions when he spoke Monday afternoon for the first time since a short session at the scouting combine. The one thing he has done is remained true to his vision of being cautious in free agency. Bears fans have been conditioned to expect bold moves in March. It has happened almost annually dating to 2009, when the team traded for quarterback Jay Cutler. A year later, the Bears signed Julius Peppers. What followed were mostly busy offseasons that usually included some high-profile additions. I don’t believe Poles is averse to spending in free agency, but the player has to be right and the time has to be right. The Bears are betting on the upside of some of these signings. They also have signed some clear starters. Defensive tackle Justin Jones, Muhammad at defensive end and linebacker Nicholas Morrow at linebacker — those players are not backups. Maybe Patrick wasn’t someone the Packers planned on starting, but circumstances wound up providing him with a lot of playing time. Pringle had a good run in Kansas City last season. So to say Poles has done nothing but sign backups is not accurate. The Bears are unlikely to hit on all of the signings, but if half of them pan out, they’ve made calculated moves that make them better without spending lavishly. Poles obviously knows how Pringle is wired and believes he’s ready for a larger role. St. Brown’s and Patrick’s familiarity with the offensive scheme is a plus for them and the team. Same goes for Muhammad. I expect the Bears to be players in free agency again — the team will be flush with cap space next year — but doing it on an annual basis hasn’t produced the results everyone was seeking.
The Giants reportedly are looking to move one of their first-round draft picks and supposedly aren’t seeking a massive haul in return. If the Bears could recoup their own first (No. 7 overall), would it make sense to send the Giants their top pick in 2023? With a first this year and two second-rounders, surely they could improve their draft status outside the top 10 in 2023. It would be like they originally traded the Giants a lottery-protected first-rounder for the move-up to grab Justin Fields. — Greg M., Beverly
I’ve seen the same reports you have — that the Giants could be open for business for one of their first-round picks. The Detroit Lions are willing to trade the No. 2 pick. I suspect you will see more teams in the top 10 announce they are willing to sell. It’s not a great year to be in the top 10. A few theories about why the Giants might prefer two first-round picks in 2023 as opposed to this year: One, it would give them additional capital to potentially pursue a quarterback a year from now if they decide Daniel Jones isn’t the long-term answer. Two, as I said, some aren’t blown away with the names being thrown around for the top 10 this year. I’m not saying it’s a bad draft class, but uncertainty about how the top few picks will go gives you an idea that it’s not a loaded group.
The idea that the Giants would trade the seventh pick and not seek “a massive haul in return” is short-sighted. If the Bears were to engage the Giants in talks — and this is strictly hypothetical — the Giants would want significantly more than just the Bears’ first-round pick in 2023. I get what you are saying about how having a first-round pick would help Poles rework the roster, but this is the hand he was dealt when he took the job. The Bears need to finish paying the tab for the Fields trade, and the sooner they do that, the sooner they can move on. I would be surprised if they moved into Round 1 this year and stunned if they pulled of a deal to trade into the top 10.
What is the likelihood that the Bears try to sign Eric Fisher. If they do, what is the feeling about Larry Borom being able to move to guard with Teven Jenkins moving to right tackle? — @jdrichy73
Some believe the Bears will be in the market for a veteran left tackle, but there aren’t many out there. Fisher has been mentioned, and he’ll capture plenty of attention because he’s well-established as a former No. 1 pick of the Chiefs. Fisher had a rough 2021 season with the Colts, and I don’t believe he will return. If the Bears are shopping for an experienced left tackle, they can’t be too picky or choosy. There’s just not much left on the shelves at the offensive line store.
TheBears have only two safeties on their roster. Are they more likely to invest an earlier pick on the position or go the route of bringing in a seasoned veteran such as Landon Collins, whom the Colts were in pursuit of two years ago during Eberflus’ tenure there? — @stephen_roto
The Bears added safety Dane Cruikshank on Wednesday, his agent tweeted, giving the Bears three. I received another question about Collins recently and I don’t see it happening — unless he plays on a cheap deal. I’d be more concerned about the depth at cornerback, wide receiver and the offensive line than at safety. The Bears are going to be able to find a couple of safeties and allow them to compete for the starting spot without having to pay a lot of money. If Collins still were an impact player, he wouldn’t be on the street.
Do you think the Bears would have any interest in James Bradberry as a starting CB opposite Jaylon Johnson? — @dawestley
The Bears made a run at signing Bradberry in free agency in 2020, when he reached the open market after four seasons with the Carolina Panthers. He’s due to earn $13.5 million this season, and I do not see the Bears paying another cornerback that kind of money. I certainly don’t see them trading with the Giants to acquire him and that contract.
Seeing that the Bears are still in need of a wide receiver, which would be more sensible: draft a big-bodied possession receiver or someone who can take the top of the defense? — @adamjfloodesq
The Bears are in need of receivers — plural. I don’t want to dodge the question, but they have an acute need for playmakers. Those come in different shapes and sizes and with different 40-yard-dash times. No one is going to look at Cooper Kupp as a receiver who can take the top off a defense, right? All he does is make plays over and over again. The Bears have a speed merchant in Darnell Mooney already. He can fly. He’s not very big and he’s not the kind of receiver who is going to win a lot of 50-50 balls downfield. Byron Pringle had a real knack for getting separation in Kansas City. One player who has gone under the radar is Equanimeous St. Brown. He signed for the minimum for one season, but he will show up for the offseason program and already knows the offense because of his time in Green Bay with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. St. Brown is 6-foot-5, 214 pounds and can really run. He struggled to stay healthy with the Packers and had consistency issues, but a change of scenery and a chance to work with a new quarterback he can build some trust with might help. I’m not saying I expect big things from St. Brown, but one personnel man I chatted with thought the signing has a chance to be a sneaky-good addition. The Bears need more additions and receivers who can make plays. Period.
Can you see the Bears going after former Bills G/T Darryl Williams? — @6red2sox
The irony is the player I believe will replace Williams in Buffalo is Ryan Bates, whom the Bills retained by matching the four-year, $17 millionoffer sheet he signed with the Bears. The Bills cut Williams earlier this month a year after signing him to a three-year, $28.3 million contract. He has experience playing guard and tackle and has been durable. It’s possible he could be in the mix, and I expect the Bears have a list with multiple names. You would think the Giants would have interest in Williams if they believe he can play because they have needs, and GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll came from Buffalo. The Bears have a lot of work to do on the offensive line and could wind up signing some bridge players this season. It’s not ideal, but it’s where they are right now.
Did the Bears make any effort to sign tackle Terron Armstead given that offensive line is a prime need? Was his price — $75 million for 5 years — too high? Was his age, 31, a negative? Was his injury history just too much? Are the Bears just that short on available spending money? — Patrick R.
I had conflicting information on the Bears’ interest in Armstead over the last few weeks. One source said they were interested at a number significantly below $15 million per year. Another said the Bears were not in the mix. It’s possible if the Bears had a much lower valuation of Armstead that both were accurate — a low-ball offer would mean the team wasn’t in the mix. This is just speculation on my part. Armstead will turn 31 in July, and his age and durability concerns had to be real for teams, especially considering his track record with injuries. Over the last six seasons, Armstead has missed 33 regular-season games, an average of 5.5 per year. That’s a lot. Questions and concerns about how the left tackle situation will play out for the Bears are valid. There would have been risk involved if the team sank big money into a very talented player with an extensive medical record. I don’t think it’s a matter of the cash budget being limited. I think the Bears decided they’re not at the point at which they can take a calculated gamble on a player like Armstead, even if it’s to fill a major need.
Given the Bears’ remaining cap room and the post-June cuts, which should help with the draft class and in-season money, do you see them making some solid additions before the draft, given all their remaining holes? – @jtbarczak
I imagine we will see a few more players signed to mostly one-year contracts, but that will soon slow to a halt, and the focus will shift entirely to the draft. Post-draft, you will see a group of players around the league released, and more options will be available. I’m not sure how you define “solid additions,” but the Bears have starting spots to fill and will need key backups. With some quality scouting and good fortune, perhaps they will get some good contributors.