After preseason estimate, how far along is Bears GM Ryan Poles’ rebuild?

He estimated 75%-80% in the preseason but said he’d get a more accurate assessment once the season was underway. Here’s a look at how close the Bears are to that number.

SHARE After preseason estimate, how far along is Bears GM Ryan Poles’ rebuild?
Bears general manager Ryan Poles.

Poles believed at the end of August that he’d filled 75-80% of his checklist in the rebuild, but “we’ll be able to evaluate that as we go through the season.”

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bears general manager Ryan Poles probably second-guessed himself as soon as he said it — and several times since.

The biggest question everyone has been asking about his team since the end of the draft is how much of his rebuilding project is done. Poles finally put a number on it at the end of August when he estimated he had checked 75%-80% of the boxes on his to-do list.

He was smart, though, to put a disclaimer on that.

“It’s hard until you start playing — just being realistic, man,” Poles said.

He hesitated before giving those figures, then added, “When the lights come on and we play a real game, the energy levels differ, the speed is different. We’ll be able to evaluate that as we go through the season.

“But ... on paper, I feel good about the progress, and I feel we took a chunk out of what we needed to.”

It’d be interesting to know what number Poles would put on it now that he has seen five weeks of mostly brutal performances by the Bears. They went into this extended break with a 40-20 win over the Commanders but were 0-4 and on a franchise-record 14-game losing streak before that.

The 0-4 start included the mysterious resignation of defensive coordinator Alan Williams, late-game implosions by quarterback Justin Fields, highly criticized moves by coach Matt Eberflus and the exile of wide receiver Chase Claypool.

The three biggest pieces any general manager needs to put in place to assemble a contender are coach, quarterback and pass rush, and the Bears are — at best — a work in progress at all three. Given where the Bears sit in those three aspects, they’re less than half built.

Fields lit up the Broncos and Commanders, but those defenses aren’t good enough and it’s not a large enough sample size to definitively say he has turned any corner. He needs a much longer run to prove he’s on his way to being the franchise quarterback.

Eberflus, and by extension offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, hit nothing but turbulence in the first four games. Eberflus mishandled the Claypool situation first by not benching him for his unacceptable effort in the season opener and then by failing to convey control of the situation last week.

And when he bypassed a go-ahead field goal late in an epic collapse against the Broncos, he would’ve been at high risk of being fired if he worked for another organization. He was 3-18 overall, which was the fifth-worst record of any NFL coach with at least 20 games.

Getsy, meanwhile, at one point lamented that the Bears had flubbed a whopping “seven or eight” explosive plays in their 41-10 loss to the Chiefs in Week 3.

All along, with a defensive-minded head coach and $20.5 million in salary-cap space allocated to two veteran defensive ends, the pass rush had no punch. The Bears had two sacks in the first four games before racking up five against the Commanders.

Realistically, with Poles showing an obvious inclination to stick with Fields in January, the biggest cost to trading down in the draft from No. 1 to 9 was that it sent the Bears too far down to land a premium prospect at defensive end. Alabama star Will Anderson went third to the Texans, and the Raiders took Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson at No. 7.

“Once you start falling in love with a player and saying this one guy is going to be a Hall of Famer — which there’s not many of them there — you fall into the trap of being narrow-minded,” Poles told the Sun-Times at the time. “You should really have an open mind on how to approach the draft [because] there is no certainty. ... So we feel comfortable with what we did.”

The offensive line is vital, too, and that group can’t be graded fairly because the Bears have yet to get their intended starting five on the field. The soonest that could happen is Week 7 against the Raiders, when left tackle Braxton Jones is eligible to come off injured reserve.

The secondary is the most complete section of the Bears’ roster, though that group will be undercut by the struggling pass rush.

Nonetheless, if everyone’s healthy, the crew of cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon and Tyrique Stevenson with safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker should form one of the NFL’s best secondaries. Poles can confidently check those boxes, and he needs to make sure they stay checked by signing Johnson to an extension.

Unfortunately for the Bears, those five defensive backs haven’t been on the field together since the season opener.

It’s hit-and-miss for the skill players around Fields.

It took awhile to get going, but now that Fields is throwing to wide receiver DJ Moore as much as possible, he’s showing everyone that he’s as advertised.

Darnell Mooney had a 1,000-yard season in 2021, but in 17 games since, he has just 48 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns. Poles said early on he loved him, but we’ll find out exactly how much when Mooney hits free agency at the end of the season.

Poles officially made tight end Cole Kmet one of his guys — Ryan Pace drafted him in 2020 — by signing him to a four-year, $50 million extension in training camp. He’s the only Pace holdover to get a new deal from Poles.

Poles paid Kmet like a top-10 player at his position, which was a bet that he would keep ascending. He has 23 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns, which puts him on track to play up to his contract.

Claypool’s unraveling was a major derailment. Poles pictured Moore as a legitimate No. 1, with Claypool (800-plus yards in 2020 and ’21) and Mooney rounding out a strong top three. Instead, receiver is once again high on the wish list for next year.

Poles’ biggest expenditure to date was the four-year, $72 million deal he gave linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. He and the other linebackers have been solid but not game-changers yet.

At running back, the trend is for teams to perpetually replenish without using high draft picks or big chunks of salary-cap space, and Poles managed that well by picking Roschon Johnson (4.9 yards per carry) to supplement Khalil Herbert (5.3).

In fairness to Poles, he was handed quite a mess. Pace had mortgaged the Bears’ future only to go 6-11 in his final season, and Poles spent most of Year 1 cleaning up the books and setting up future assets to even have a chance at a rebuild.

And as he went into the offseason with a full slate of draft picks and the most cap space in the NFL, he warned that he couldn’t fix everything in one offseason while staying financially disciplined to keep the Bears from sliding back into trouble.

The overall overhaul isn’t all bad, but the reality that the Bears still don’t know if they have the right pieces in the most vital spots leaves them well below that 75%-80% mark upon reassessment. About a third of the way through their season, it looks like they’re around half of that initial estimate.

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