Ryan Poles picks up the pace of Bears’ roster housecleaning

The Bears’ initial 53-man roster includes only 22 of the 77 players the new general manager inherited from Ryan Pace when he was hired in January — with 13 rookies making the team.

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A photo of Jack Sanborn making a tackle against the Browns.

Linebacker Jack Sanborn (57) of Lake Zurich High School and Wisconsin was one of 13 rookies to make the Bears’ initial 53-man roster.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Ryan Poles’ rebuild of the Bears as the franchise’s new general manager started with a housecleaning that sure looked like a repudiation of the roster he inherited from Ryan Pace. 

He traded edge rusher Khalil Mack, cut nose tackle Eddie Goldman and had no interest in quality free agents such as wide receiver Allen Robinson, guard James Daniels and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. On the first day of free agency, he signed Lucas Patrick to replace Sam Mustipher at center. 

And the draft produced an even clearer rejection. Braxton Jones, a fifth-round pick, became an instant hit at left tackle, ostensibly replacing Pace’s 2021 second-round draft pick, Teven Jenkins. After getting a long look at Jenkins and 2021 fifth-round pick Larry Borom — two foundation pieces of Pace’s attempt to rebuild the offensive line — in the offseason, Poles signed veterans Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield.

Jenkins and Borom have since rejuvenated themselves as likely Week 1 starters at right guard and right tackle — due credit to Pace for that development. But after the dust settled from Poles’ initial cleanup job, it’s clear this already is his team. Of the 77 players Poles inherited from Pace when he was hired in January, only 22 remain after Tuesday’s mandatory cut-down to the initial 53-man roster.

Change is usually in order when there’s a regime change at that level, but Poles’ re-make is aggressive even by that new-blood standard. When Pace replaced Phil Emery in 2015, his first 53-man roster included 33 Emery holdovers — and that transition was considered a housecleaning. 

The roster predictably trended toward newcomers and youth. It includes 13 rookies — all 11 draft picks except center Doug Kramer, who’s on injured reserve. Three undrafted rookies made it: linebacker Jack Sanborn, cornerback Jaylon Jones and fullback/tight end Jake Tonges. 

The final cuts included six players from the Pace era, notably defensive end Mario Edwards, who had signed a three-year, $11.5 million extension in 2021; cornerback Thomas Graham, a 2021 sixth-round pick; offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons, a 2020 seventh-round pick; and defensive end Sam Kamara, who showed promise in his seven games last season.

Schofield, a guard who signed before training camp, also was cut after losing his starting job to Jenkins. 

Several of the younger players cut figure to return on the practice squad, which can include up to 16 players this season — and also can include veteran players. 

As expected, the Bears’ best players heading into the 2022 season are Pace holdovers: quarterback Justin Fields, wide receiver Darnell Mooney, running back David Montgomery and tight end Cole Kmet on offense, linebacker Roquan Smith, defensive end Robert Quinn and cornerback Jaylon Johnson on defense and kicker Cairo Santos and four-phase rock DeAndre Houston-Carson on special teams. 

But check back in eight games, and we’ll see just how well Poles is doing with this rebuild and how many of his players are included in that group. Not only Patrick at center, defensive tackle Justin Jones and linebacker Nicholas Morrow, but the rookies — Jones at left tackle, cornerback Kyler Gordon, safety Jaquan Brisker, wide receiver/kick returner Velus Jones — will be given early opportunities to establish themselves. Will they be good for NFL rookies? Or actually good by NFL standards? 

How well that works out could determine whether the Bears become a surprise team this season. But with little excess baggage from the Pace era, Poles already has a head start on a key part of this rebuild — heading into the 2023 season with his own roster, a ton of salary-cap space and a first-round draft pick. There’s still tinkering to be done, but the developmental phase of the roster — Poles’ roster — has officially begun. 

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