Justin Fields’ supporting cast in the spotlight
Bears GM Ryan Poles pushed back against the criticism that he has not given Fields the support and weapons he needs to succeed — mentioning Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Velus Jones and an improving offensive line as elements that will benefit Fields’ development.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles is not one of those smug authority figures who thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, has all the answers and bristles at any suggestion he’s doing something wrong.
At 36, he’s unpolished but also confident, resolute, sincere and as humble as a rookie GM for a founding NFL franchise should be. So far, he looks the part. He’s a young, forward-thinking guy who grew up in the trenches and learned well during his 13 years in the Chiefs School of Management. Poles has a good grasp of 21st-century athletes, technology and culture, but most of all the athletes — what makes them tick and how they need to be managed. Let’s put it this way: If he gets the quarterback right, he’ll be a success.
There’s the rub, of course. He has to get the quarterback right. Poles had a head start on succeeding where others failed by inheriting Justin Fields, a potential franchise quarterback whom more than just the Bears were in love with when he was drafted 11th overall by Ryan Pace in 2021.
But as he rebuilt the Bears in the offseason, Poles was criticized for undercutting that initial advantage by failing to give Fields the support he needed. Poles’ first two draft picks were defensive players — cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker. His offensive help in free agency was modest at best — center Lucas Patrick (two years, $8 million) and wide receiver Byron Pringle (one year, $4.125 million).
Entering training camp, the Bears were either nondescript, unproven or in flux at every position group but running back. So the criticism still stands. If Fields falters and another quarterback search is on in 2023, Poles will be accused of setting him up to fail in a defining season.
Poles, of course, doesn’t see it that way. He set this up by design, not neglect.
“When we’re building this thing, the goal coming in is [to] try to surround him with the best talent that we can,” Poles said. “But at the same time, I’ve never gotten away from [the idea that] we have to build the entire roster.
“I’m not going to overreach and do crazy things to get a name or anything. Our approach has been consistent from the draft all the way through. We’re going to continue to add talent all around the best we can. It might not be the name that everyone wants to hear. But we’re going to develop the players that we have here.”
All you have to do, however, is point to the wide receivers room to see why there’s doubt. Darnell Mooney is a potential star but behind him are Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, rookie Velus Jones and waiver pickup -Ihmir Smith-Marsette, with Pringle injured.
“We’re going to continue to fight to make that the best unit that we can,” Poles said. “Mooney is balling right now. I’m excited for him. That’s going to help Justin. I’m excited about [tight end] Cole [Kmet]. I think our protections and our [offensive] line have gotten better. I’m excited about Velus coming in and making plays and being a factor who can do different things and bring speed.
“I understand that to do it all right away, that’s hard to do with some of the resources that you have. So over time, we’re going to continue to do that. That’s always in our head: to put our quarterback in the best situation.”
You can argue that now was the time to put all those resources toward offense, to give Fields the best chance to succeed in a critical year of his development. It’s an early test for Poles with a lot at stake. It’s a little early for his Mitch Trubisky moment. But for any general manager at any time, getting the quarterback right is a daunting — and often defining — task.