Ryan Poles has no regrets about Chase Claypool trade, but is he ready to pay him?

Two seasons into his career, Claypool looked like he was headed toward a big contract. Now, as he approaches the typical time to talk about an extension, he has quite a bit to prove.

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Bears QB Justin Fields talks to receiver Chase Claypool during a game last season.

Bears QB Justin Fields talks to receiver Chase Claypool during a game last season.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS — Let’s get right to it: After giving up what essentially turned out to be a first-round pick for a wide receiver who managed 14 catches in seven games, does Bears general manager Ryan Poles regret his midseason trade for Chase Claypool?

No.

“I wouldn’t say I have regrets about that because I’m excited to see what he does this upcoming year,” Poles told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. “When you come in at that time of year at that position where you haven’t had an offseason with that specific quarterback, it can take some time.

“I’m really hoping this offseason that all jells out and he can be the playmaker I know he can be. He’s got a lot to prove, too.”

It’s fairly predictable that Poles would stand by one of his most daring moves just four months later, but his confidence will be tested if Claypool comes looking for a contract extension this offseason.

This is when productive players would do that, with only one season left on their rookie contract, and Poles is heading into those conversations with cornerback Jaylon Johnson, tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver Darnell Mooney, as well.

Poles saw that on the horizon when he traded the Bears’ second-round pick to the Steelers for Claypool in November and didn’t flinch. With the Bears’ subsequent plunge and the Dolphins having their first-rounder stripped from them, that pick is now No. 32 overall and would surely help Poles’ rebuild. He gave it up believing Claypool would be an asset to quarterback Justin Fields for years to come.

Perhaps he will be, but there was little evidence last season. Between injuries and trying to pick up a new scheme, Claypool had only one game with more than two catches. And that was on a team that had minimal proven talent in his way when he arrived.

Claypool certainly was headed toward a long-term contract after his first two seasons, when he totaled 121 catches, 1,733 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Steelers. But they scaled back his role last season, and he had only 32 catches for 311 yards and a touchdown in eight games before the trade, then caught those 14 passes for 140 yards for the Bears.

So while Poles doesn’t regret it at the moment, he’s cautious about doubling down on Claypool until there’s more proof that he can be what the Bears are missing.

“We need to see more,” Poles said. “That’d be the smartest thing to do. But we’ll have those conversations and see what makes sense for both sides.”

Waiting is probably best for Claypool, too, because it would be tough for him to make a strong case for No. 1 wide receiver money after underperforming. A resounding comeback in 2023 would put both sides in a better mindset to work out a deal. Claypool would have the leverage to ask for a lot, and Poles would be reassured about giving it to him.

Like Poles, coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy defended Claypool last season by saying he needed more time. That explanation has expired. Now it comes down to Claypool’s commitment to catching up.

“He’s gotta spend a lot of time here in the offseason with Justin, catching balls, getting that trust,” Poles said. “When you’re an outside receiver . . . there’s a trust element in throwing the ball to a covered man down the field. When you don’t have that chemistry, it takes a little bit longer to build it.”

Among their many flaws, the Bears are woefully undermanned at wide receiver. Claypool, even at his best, and Mooney aren’t enough. They need those two at full strength, plus another receiver better than both of them. Poles might be able to put off contract talks with Claypool this year, but ultimately he needs him to be a receiver worth big money.

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