(670 The Score) All over Chicago, let the debate begin.
It likely will go on for years, not days.
It started Thursday night the minute the Bears selected Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright with the 10th pick of the NFL Draft. But the local conversation – and consternation – had less to do with Wright’s ability to shore up one of the Bears’ weakest positions and more with general manager Ryan Poles’ decision to pass on perhaps the best defensive player in the draft.
Sure, Wright gives the Bears an immediate starter at right tackle, a rugged 6-foot-5-inch, 333-pound mountain of a man who started 42 games at Tennessee and succeeded in the country’s strongest football conference, the SEC. Analysts such as Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network rated Wright higher than any other tackle in the draft, an esteemed group that included Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. – who went No. 6 to the Cardinals – Georgia's Broderick Jones and Northwestern's Peter Skoronski, the local product who went No. 11 pick to the Titans.
But it will be Jalen Carter's career that Wright's will be measured against forever.
Carter, the troubled defensive tackle from Georgia, remained on the board when Poles and the Bears traded down one spot from ninth to 10th, receiving a 2024 fourth-round pick from the Eagles in return. A portion of the fan base might never accept that the Bears had the chance to draft the defensive tackle ideal for their scheme, a prospect considered by many evaluators to be the best player at any position.
And Poles passed.
Whether the general manager entering his second season admits it or not, the decision to trade down and let the Eagles take Carter off the board had to weigh heavier on Poles than the one to take Wright. It certainly was the more defining of the two decisions.
But I think the Wright choice was also the right one.
That wouldn’t be true for every team every time. But at this juncture for the Bears, it made sense to me.
Poles just wasn’t in the same position that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was to take a risk. Roseman is proven. Poles isn’t. The Bears aren’t the NFC champion Eagles, and their futility deprived them the luxury of taking a chance on someone with Carter’s past.
In March, Carter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in a car crash that killed a Georgia staff member and teammate. Weeks later at his Georgia pro day, Carter showed up unprepared and out of shape, raising questions that apparently still linger. That Carter dropped as far as he did only underscores that reality and that the Bears weren’t the only team with doubts.
A young team such as the Bears lacks the veteran infrastructure to provide stability for a young player like Carter who clearly needs it. Drafting Carter also would've made all the rhetoric about character and culture that Poles and coach Matt Eberflus have used since taking over 15 months ago appear disingenuous. You also wonder how involved new team president Kevin Warren, a man known for his integrity, became in the process.
Passing on Carter might not have been popular among many Bears fans, but at least it was consistent with this regime.
Remember that Poles expressed more relief than any other emotion after trading the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers in March to move down to No. 9 and acquire receiver D.J. Moore and a slew of draft picks. He remarked to more than one national reporter that doing so removed a layer of anxiety. That was surprising and telling transparency.
Thursday’s move was similar in that it removed Poles from the hot seat and relieved him of that burden. He always can say he didn’t vote no on Carter as much as he abstained, moving down one spot fully knowing the Eagles planned to draft the prospect he considered too risky to take.
On brand, Poles made the safer and more solid pick by selecting Wright. To use a baseball analogy, Poles hit a double in the gap because he couldn’t afford to whiff by swinging for the fences. On ESPN, analyst Louis Riddick wondered aloud if one day Wright might become the best player in this draft. That seems a bit hyperbolic, but it’s not an exaggeration to think he could start Week 1 for a team with as many holes as the Bears.
With Wright opposite Braxton Jones, who showed promise as a rookie, the Bears have two young offensive tackles for line coach Chris Morgan to develop. They believe in Morgan’s ability to “coach them up." They have faith that Poles and assistant general manager Ian Cunningham – both former college offensive linemen – know how to grade tackles. They now have a tentative starting five – Jones and Wright at tackle, Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis at guard, Cody Whitehair at center – that offers a potential upgrade for a unit that desperately needed one.
There’s no doubt that passing up a chance to draft a dominant defensive tackle by moving down one spot to take Wright won’t create as much hubbub around town as taking Carter would have.
But that’s no accident either.