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Rebuild-a-Bears: GM eyes ‘playmakers’ with $100M cap surplus, No. 1 pick

Dec 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA;  Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) runs with the ball against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

General manager Ryan Poles can transition to rebuild-a-Bears mode, and his riches are boundless after Chicago claimed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft.

“Everyone should be excited about the direction we’re about to go,” Poles said Tuesday.

The Bears lost to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday to finish the 2022 season with a 3-14 record, leapfrogging the Texans in the draft order because of Houston’s last-second win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The finale put a promising bow on the 2022 season, a year in which the franchise parted with defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith to shed salary cap space and increase draft capital. Poles and the Bears are projected to hit free agency in March with an NFL-best $102 million under the salary cap, pending final NFL-tabulated cap figures used to set franchise tag values in February.

Poles said the Bears will make measured decisions on spending and “be sound in free agency,” using an approach of adding players they evaluate as difference-makers as opposed to tracking down available players who fit roster needs. Running back David Montgomery, scheduled to be a free agent, is one player the Bears stated Tuesday they’d like to have back.

But Poles said that would be the case only if “common ground on the contract” is found.

Worth noting, the Bears were never close to finding a shared view of market value with Smith as the trade deadline approached in October. He’ll start at inside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s playoffs.

Field Level Media rates Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson as the top prospect in the draft, but a trio of quarterbacks — Bryce Young (Alabama), CJ Stroud (Ohio State) and Will Levis (Kentucky) — could bring multiple trade suitors to Poles’ doorstep. Poles and Colts general manager Chris Ballard are friends and former associates from their time sharing office space in the Kansas City Chiefs’ scouting department.

Quarterback isn’t considered a need for the Bears with 2021 first-round pick Justin Fields at the controls. Poles would not entirely rule out drafting a quarterback at No. 1, but his visible reaction indicates Poles might need some work on his demeanor during smokescreen season.

“I’d have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision,” Poles said.

Fields and Poles are in regular contact and the quarterback said as part of a season-ending exit interview that he has confidence the Bears are ready to ramp into contention.

“I know Ryan has a great understanding of what needs to be done around here, what holes we might need to fill and stuff like that,” Fields said. “That’s not my job to control any of that.”

Apropos of the planning discussion with Fields, Poles said winning more games in 2023 requires more playmakers.

“To get better. We need to win more games. Some of those tight games, I want to finish. Bringing in more playmakers is going to allow us to do that. The expectation is to take that next step,” Poles said. “We want to make decisions that can last a long time.”

–Field Level Media