What Bears GM Ryan Poles can learn from the Eagles’ resurrection

Bears general manager Ryan Poles, who will continue his own rebuild this offseason, should take note. The Eagles’ path to the top of the top of the NFC is worth trying to copy:

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Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants

Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith makes a catch against the Giants on Sunday.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Eagles were a mess.

Less than three years removed from winning the Super Bowl, they’d finished the 2020 season 4-11-1, losing seven of their final eight games. They fired head coach Doug Pederson and, five weeks after that, agreed to deal quarterback Carson Wentz to the Colts.

Less than two years later, the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.

How did they get here? General manager Howie Roseman hired a coach he believed in — just like the Bears did, he chose a Colts coordinator — and then built around his quarterback, mastered draft-day trades and fortified the league’s best defensive line.

The Bears have examined the Eagles’ rebuild in the context of their own.

“The way they’ve built that roster I’m sure has come up a few times,” coach Matt Eberflus said Friday. “We’re looking for a long, fast, physical football team that plays a certain style, which they do. They play that way, too. It’s definitely that.”

Bears general manager Ryan Poles was wise to take note. The Eagles’ path to the top of the NFC is worth trying to copy:

Help your QB

The Eagles drafted quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round in 2020 and started him four times before deciding to trade Wentz.

Even then, no one was quite sure if Hurts was the team’s quarterback of the future.

The Eagles built around him as if he were anyway.

After Hurts’ rookie year, the Eagles gave him a receiver with whom to grow, drafting Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. The two were teammates at Alabama. Some considered the 6-foot, 170-pound Smith to be undersized — but he has totaled 1,691 yards since the start of the 2021 season, which ranks 26th in the NFL.

That’s a path most good teams — and not the Bears — take. Of the seven NFC teams that would make the playoffs were the season to end today, all but the Giants have a starting receiver they drafted in the first round. (They did — but traded Kadarius Toney to the Chiefs in October.) The Bears have done it once in 20 years — and that choice, Kevin White, caught 25 passes in four seasons.

After Hurts’ first full season as a starter — he was paired with new head coach Nick Sirianni — Roseman found him more dynamic help at receiver, trading a first- and third-round pick to the Titans for A.J. Brown in April. The Eagles signed the star receiver, who had clamored for a new contract in Tennessee, to a four-year, $100 million deal.

Brown has turned into a superstar with the Eagles. He’s sixth in the league with 1,020 receiving yards and third with 10 touchdowns.

The Titans took Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks No. 18 overall and traded No. 101 to the Jets. Last week, in part because of the failed trade, the Titans fired GM Jon Robinson.

Hurts is the favorite to be named NFL MVP.

Justin Fields, though, might be left to wonder when he’ll get his own game-changing receiver. Poles traded the Bears’ 2023 second-round pick for Chase Claypool, but the receiver’s slow start and the team’s heavy-stone sink to the bottom of the standings makes that move look worse with each passing week. Amazingly, the expected free-agent class this offseason isn’t much better than what the Bears currently have.

The draft will be a better place to find a receiver; ESPN has projected four to go in the first round of its latest mock draft, though three of them are in the last 11 picks.

Trade back

The Bears have more roster holes than they do draft picks or money to spend — and that’s remarkable, given that they’re on pace to draft third and lead the NFL in salary-cap space this offseason.

The solution: trade back in the draft.

If the Bears’ draft pick lands in the top five, Poles should court the teams who want to move up for a quarterback and squeeze the biggest return he can out of them.

What Roseman has done trading for draft picks in the last two years is dazzling.

The Eagles landed a 2022 first-rounder and a third-rounder for Wentz. They moved back six spots in the 2021 draft, earning the Dolphins’ 2022 first-round pick, and then two spots back up, using the Colts’ third-rounder as a sweetener, to draft Smith.

In April, the Eagles dealt Picks 16, 19 and 194 to the Saints for Picks 18, 101 and 237 — plus their 2023 first-rounder and a 2024 second-rounder. Roseman used one of his two remaining first-round picks to trade for Brown and the other to trade up and draft Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis.

Were the season to end today, the Eagles — who have the best record in football — would own the fifth pick in the draft, courtesy of the Saints, in addition to their own choice.

Put into simpler terms, Roseman dealt Wentz — a quarterback the team had given up on — and the sixth pick in 2021. The haul: Smith, his second-best receiver; Brown, his superstar receiver; Davis, his first-round pick this year; a likely top-five pick next year; and a 2023 second-round pick.

That kind of dealing can set a team up for a decade.

Poles undoubtedly will be tempted to use a top-five pick to directly fill the Bears’ biggest need — Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson and Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter would fit nicely — but he could reap the benefits of trading back for years.

Build D-line

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is a disciple of Eberflus, for whom he served as the Colts’ defensive backs coach from 2018-20. Like Eberflus, he believes in rushing the passer with four down linemen.

The Eagles have built the league’s best line — PFF ranks it No. 1 in pass-rushing — with a combination of returning players, free-agent splashes, journeyman signings and, yes, a first-round pick.

The Eagles’ second-biggest splash of the offseason was to give edge rusher Haason Reddick a three-year, $45 million free-agent deal after he totaled 11 sacks for the Panthers in 2021.

The Philadelphia-area native has 10 sacks this season, ranking 10th in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush grade.

PFF considers Brandon Graham the third-best edge rusher. Josh Sweat, who signed a three-year extension in September 2021, is No. 19. Javon Hargrave grades out as the 16th-best interior defensive lineman. All three were on the Eagles last year. Graham’s contract was restructured in 2021 to add another year. The Eagles maneuvered to bring defensive tackle Fletcher Cox back, too, cutting him in March rather than paying him an $18 million bonus — and, two days later, re-signing him to a one-year, $15 million deal.

Roseman didn’t stop adding. He used a first-round draft pick on Davis, who has played nine games this season and returned earlier this month from a high-ankle sprain.

In late October, he traded for the Bears’ Robert Quinn, who was ineffective in five games — he had two quarterback hits and no sacks — before landing on injured reserve with a knee injury.

In November, Roseman signed veterans Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to round out a defensive line that’s known for cycling players in and out during games. In Sunday’s 48-22 win against the Giants, Reddick was the only one of the aforementioned defenders to play more than half his team’s snaps.

The Bears won’t be able to acquire that kind of depth in one offseason. After fielding the league’s worst line this year, though, they need to start trying.

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