Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Poles is playing a game of wide receiver roulette. Despite quality starting options that were (and still are) available in free agency, Poles is taking the alternate route toward providing quarterback Justin Fields with legitimate targets in year two.
Sure, Byron Pringle has upside. A lot of it, actually. He has good size, really good speed and fantastic open-field instincts with the ball in his hands. At 28 years old, his time is now or never. I like betting on guys like that, especially ones whose lack of production is more about limited opportunity than talent.
But Pringle simply isn’t enough. At least, not for a team that only has Darnell Mooney as a viable veteran on the roster. The Bears did add a second free agent to the depth chart – Equanimeous St. Brown – but he’s a long shot at evolving into a regular contributor on offense. He has elite size but doesn’t play nearly as fast as he tested at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
Poles’ approach to roster building is becoming more apparent with each passing day of non-activity in free agency. It’s especially true at wide receiver, where Poles is proving he’d rather buy in bulk than spend big on one high-priced star.
“I don’t want to be too specific, but it was like, would you rather pay one receiver one lump sum, or have two receivers that better your team?” said Poles in a team meeting prior to 2022’s free-agency period, via The Athletic. “Or do you go with a guy that has versatility or no versatility? Wait, this guy can do his job and another job. Should we consider that? In free agency, we’re trying to be disciplined in how we spend money and cap space, so it’s negotiating which player to choose.”
Poles has made his preference very clear. He hasn’t paid one receiver a big lump sum. But did he even have that option? One big-ticket wide receiver still wouldn’t be enough to round out Chicago’s depth chart. If a player like Christian Kirk or even Allen Robinson received a massive multi-year deal, would it have changed the complexion of the offense all that much? Probably not. At least, not enough.
Poles is sticking to a plan. But it’s become an increasingly risky one now that the landscape of the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft has changed. A couple of weeks ago, the Bears were in a position to land a wide receiver with first-round pedigree at No. 39 overall. Now? Uh, not so much.
First came the Davante Adams trade, the one in which the Green Bay Packers received the No. 22 overall pick (and then some) from the Las Vegas Raiders. Then, on Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for a boatload of picks, including No. 29 overall.
That’s two more wide receiver-needy teams with four picks between picks 22 and 30. The Packers have consistently been a team that might use its first-round pick on a wide receiver before the Adams trade. Now, they could actually use both on one. The Chiefs weren’t in the first-round wide receiver discussion before the Hill trade. Now, it feels like they have no choice but to target one.
This leaves Poles and his buy-in-bulk mentality potentially staring at some empty shelves. North Dakota State’s Christian Watson and Georgia’s George Pickens were supposed to be on the board for the rookie general manager’s first-ever draft pick. Penn State’s Jahan Dotson was supposed to be a top prospect who could slide to round two. Arkansas’ Treylon Burks’ poor NFL Scouting Combine performance created hope that the Bears would be unfairly enriched by his potential draft-day slide.
Now, all of those prospects feel like longshots to reach the 39th pick, let alone the 48th (Chicago’s second second-rounder).
Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face, right? At least, that’s what Mike Tyson once surmised. The Bears’ wide receiver plan has been on the wrong end of a few jabs and crosses the last few weeks and while there’s still a chance to recover in the third wave of free agency and the second round of the NFL Draft, it certainly feels like Poles is against the ropes.
- Oct 03, 2023
- Oct 03, 2023