Bears bosses head into first combine with money to spend — but few draft picks

Because of their trade for quarterback Justin Fields last year, the Bears don’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft, which starts April 28.

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Coach Matt Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles are entering their first NFL Scouting Combine in charge of the Bears.

Coach Matt Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles are entering their first NFL Scouting Combine in charge of the Bears.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Daniel Jeremiah sees this year’s NFL draft class being deeper than it is wide.

“The difference between the 15th player and the 60th player in this draft is very small, and teams are going to have these guys in all different orders,” the NFL Network’s draft guru said last week.

That’s a good thing for the Bears. Because of their trade for quarterback Justin Fields in 2021, the Bears don’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft, which starts April 28. Their first selection is scheduled to come at No. 39, the seventh pick of Round 2. They have the seventh choice in Round 3, too. But, because of the Fields trade, they won’t pick again until Round 5.

The Bears have only two picks in the first 146 selections. To be even bleaker about it: If you totaled the 2022 draft order of each NFL team using the Jimmy Johnson points system, the Bears rank 29th, ahead of only the Colts, 49ers and Super Bowl champion Rams. Only two of the bottom 18 teams on that list had losing records last year: the 7-10 Seahawks, who are also without their first-round pick, and the 6-11 Bears.

New Bears GM Ryan Poles vowed to “build through the draft,” but he’s unlikely to find major cornerstones without a first-round pick. The NFL Scouting Combine this week figures to be more about free agents than potential draft picks.

When they’re not watching more than 300 draft-eligible players lift weights and run sprints this week, Poles and his new deputies will do what no NFL team could at this time last year: walk through restaurants, bars and the hallways of the Indianapolis Convention Center to get a read on the potential free-agent market. Agents will make it clear what they expect their players to command when the NFL’s legal tampering period opens March 14.

The Bears’ offseason needs are obvious: offensive-line help, at least one dynamic wide receiver, a cornerback to play opposite Jaylon Johnson, a slot corner to play beside him and two linebackers to join Roquan Smith in the new 4-3 base defense.

The Bears are better positioned for free agency than they are for the draft. According to OverTheCap.com, the Bears have $25.3 million to spend this offseason, the 11th-most in the NFL. That doesn’t count veterans the Bears could cut in the next two weeks.

Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan started only one game last year and appeared in five before being put on injured reserve a second time in a concession that he was no longer valuable to the team. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman wasn’t the dominant force last year that he was in 2019; in between, he sat out a year because of the coronavirus. Running back Tarik Cohen has missed the Bears’ last 30 games since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in 2020. The Bears could cut quarterback Nick Foles, too. They traded for him two years ago because of his connections to the offensive coaching staff, but then fired those coaches.

If the Bears cut the four players, they’d be taking on more dead money than the salary-cap space they’d save, though the calculus could change if the Bears designate up to two of them as post-June 1 cuts.

Poles and new coach Matt Eberflus will be asked about their plans with those veterans — and how some of the defenders fit into the new scheme — when they meet the media Tuesday. A month ago, when they were hired, they said they needed to further evaluate the Bears’ roster. That has since happened, though it’s unlikely either will lay out his future plans publicly.

The combine, after all, marks the start of lying season. Free-agent action will speak louder than whatever words come out of their mouths this week.

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