LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- When he has free time away from Halas Hall during the offseason, first-year Bears general manager Ryan Poles and his wife often find themselves watching those home makeover shows on HGTV.
Three months into his Bears tenure, Poles likened the project before him at Halas Hall to those home makeover shows. He didn’t envision needing to completely tear the roster down to the studs, but he knew there was great work to be done.
“You might have to redo some countertops over here, some fresh paint over there,” Poles said as he shared the comparison in April. “Some rooms are good. You don’t need to touch them. So that’s kind of the thought process there."
What the 37-year-old Poles has done for the Bears is embark on a significant remodel, quickly turning over more than half the roster he inherited and making difficult decisions in the past week with the hope that future dividends will come.
Last Wednesday, Poles dealt veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick. On Monday, he ended any hope of signing linebacker Roquan Smith to a long-term deal by trading him to the Ravens for a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick and veteran linebacker A.J. Klein. Then hours ahead of the trade deadline Tuesday afternoon, Poles and the Bears acquired receiver Chase Claypool from the Steelers in exchange for a second-round pick.
The Bears (3-5) believe they're now better positioned for the future with added draft capital and more help for quarterback Justin Fields. They own eight draft picks – a first, second, third, two fourths, two fifths and a seventh – and are projected to have more than $125 million in salary cap space in 2023, the most of any team in the NFL.
Poles has torn up parts of the Bears' infrastructure. But like in any home makeover, that’s the easy part. The greatest challenge now comes in building it back up.
Trading a potential cornerstone piece in the 25-year-old Smith became a necessary move in Poles’ mind after months of contract negotiations led to no agreement. Smith was slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He hopes to land a lucrative contract that rivals those of star linebackers like Shaquille Leonard (Colts) and Fred Warner (49ers), and Poles was unwilling to put that deal on the table.
“There’s a part of me that’s bummed because this was a guy that I thought was going to be here for a long time,” Poles said. “I thought we put a lot of effort forward to get that done, and we came up short. We couldn’t find common ground. That's just a part of this business, which I think we all understand.
“The reality of it is you have to ask yourself a question. Are we ever going to find that middle ground? From our previous conversations together, I felt it was highly unlikely. So, are you able to then take the opportunity to enhance your roster now? Or are you OK with the chance that he walks away and we can’t use some of that to enhance our roster? That’s what it came down to and I felt like we had to move forward at that time.”
Acquiring Claypool was an aggressive move by Poles that few envisioned the Bears would make before the trade deadline. To many, the perception was that Chicago is in a full-blown rebuild and would only sell on the trade market. But Poles knew the wide receiver class in 2023 free agency is weak and saw the addition of the 24-year-old Claypool as the chance to strike before the offseason begins – while also investing in Fields.
“I like the way Justin is trending,” Poles said. “And I think adding another big body who's physical, explosive, great leaping ability, can stretch the field but also is violent with the ball in his hand as well as a blocker, I think that enhances everyone around him.
“You can never have enough weapons and guys that help your quarterback gain confidence.”
Adding Claypool is just the start for Poles and the Bears. They still have needs at wide receiver and on the offensive line and must address holes in the league’s 31st-ranked run defense as they continue their search for game-changing talent on both sides of the football.
Poles has the necessary resources to build the Bears into a sustained winner. Now it’s about capitalizing on those opportunities. He can either hit on that goal or set the franchise back for years to come.
The Bears’ remodel has hit an important milestone with the necessary teardown nearly completed. The most difficult tasks are still ahead.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.