Another quiet day in free agency as Bears GM Ryan Poles seems to keep eye on future

Poles needs to replenish the roster and support QB Justin Fields, but not at the risk of cramping his massive opportunity in 2023.

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Poles is in his first season as Bears general manager.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Bears general manager Ryan Poles inherited a team with many deficiencies and ample salary-cap space to address them.

So why isn’t he doing much?

As other teams splashed money all over the place during the first two days of free agency, the Bears have been mostly quiet. They picked up former Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi on a three-year, $40.5 million deal Monday, then agreed to terms with outgoing Packers guard Lucas Patrick and Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow late Tuesday. Patrick will sign for two years and $8 million, with half of that money guaranteed, a source said.

Ogunjobi, Patrick and Morrow should be starters, but Poles mostly seems to be waiting for the market to become a little more manageable.

And that’s prudent. He seems smart enough to avoid the mistake his predecessor, Ryan Pace, made by failing to acknowledge that he had a mediocre team. Pace always thought the Bears were one or two big acquisitions away from championship contention and had no hesitation in making win-now moves.

One of Poles’ strongest assets is that he came into this with clear eyes. He has no attachment to anything Pace and the previous administration built. That blueprint got everybody fired as the Bears tumbled to 6-11.

The Bears hired Poles to clear out that mess, salvaging valuable pieces such as Roquan Smith and Darnell Mooney along the way, and rebuild according to his own design. No one expects that to be a one-year turnaround.

Given that his first order of business was to trade star pass rusher Khalil Mack for draft picks, it’s obvious that Poles — even with all his ambition — knows this will be a gradual process.

In his various media appearances, he hasn’t hinted at a timeline. He hasn’t hinted at much of anything, really, because he’s trying to use unpredictability to his advantage.

The most he revealed about free agency was implying he was inclined to wait until players “start to trickle down and the price points come down a little bit,” and he’d likely stay patient until “things settle down a little.”

But his moves, and non-moves, speak louder than any comment he could fire off at a news conference.

The Bears will start spending soon. They have to. With 30 players leaving in free agency, they’ll need people just to fill out the roster.

Guard James Daniels was the latest to leave when he agreed to a three-year, $26.5 million deal with the Steelers on Tuesday, NFL Network reported.

The Bears also re-signed long snapper Patrick Scales to a one-year deal, a source said.

Big picture: Poles must do what he can to facilitate a breakout season by quarterback Justin Fields, but not at the cost of hindering what he can do in 2023. The Bears have all their draft picks next year, and OverTheCap calculates they’ll have $131.7 million in salary-cap space, which is second in the NFL. All the dead money from Pace’s tenure — the Bears have a league-high $45.1 million of it on the books this year — will be gone.

That’s when Poles can really start drawing up big ideas. If he’s impatient now, he’ll close the door on that opportunity.

So he’s likely to look for solid help at reasonable prices, particularly on the offensive line and at wide receiver.

The Jaguars ponied up a total of $121.5 million in their offers to wide receiver Christian Kirk and guard Brandon Scherff. The Bears don’t want to get involved in that kind of bidding war.

Instead, shorter, modest deals for veteran wide receivers such as Jarvis Landry and T.Y. Hilton would be more sensible because they won’t cramp Poles’ long-term plans.

His passivity in the early rush of free agency indicates this will probably be a transition season. The real fireworks likely are a year away. It’s hardly thrilling, but it makes sense.

Contributing: Patrick Finley.

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