Bears GM Ryan Poles moves quickly to land trade haul for top pick

Bears general manager Ryan Poles made a franchise-altering trade on Friday, 48 days before he had to.

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Bears GM Ryan Poles agreed to trade the No. 1 pick on Friday.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bears general manager Ryan Poles made a potentially franchise-altering trade Friday, 48 days before he had to.

Nearly seven weeks before the Bears were scheduled to choose first overall in the NFL Draft, Poles agreed to deal the No. 1 pick to the Panthers for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and wide receiver D.J. Moore. Once the trade is made official next week, the Bears will have the Panthers’ Nos. 9 and 61 picks in this year’s draft, a first-round pick in 2024 and a second-round pick in 2025.

As the first team since the Rams in 2016 to trade up to No. 1, the Panthers will draft a quarterback — likely Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.

From the moment the Bears finished with the NFL’s worst record last season — thanks to the Colts allowing the Texans a Hail Mary touchdown in Week 18 — Poles was intrigued by the possibilities the top pick presented and made no secret of his desire to trade it.

The Bears are just the third team this century to trade the No. 1 pick before draft day, and Poles’ gambit to strike this quickly is unprecedented. The Rams traded up two weeks before the 2016 draft, and the Falcons moved up for the Chargers’ No. 1 pick one day before the 2001 draft.

Making the move before the official start of free agency next Wednesday forced interested teams to pay Poles a premium for roster certainty; the Panthers now won’t be compelled to sign a starting quarterback next week.

The timing also helps Poles, who made the trade before Aaron Rodgers or Lamar Jackson could alter the trade market for teams needing quarterbacks. With Moore, he fills one of the Bears’ gaping roster holes without having to bother with an underwhelming group of wide receivers in free agency. Despite the Panthers’ revolving door at quarterback, Moore averaged 1,040 receiving yards over five seasons. The Bears, by contrast, have had only two receivers reach 1,000 yards since 2015.

Moore will join Darnell Mooney — the last Bears receiver with 1,000 yards — and Chase Claypool in a receivers room that will give quarterback Justin Fields more help than he had last year. Moore, who tuns 26 next month, will be around for a while, too. He’s under contract for the next three years at a total of $61.8 million.

After adding Moore, the Bears will have a league-high $75.6 million in salary-cap space (only four teams have more than half that amount). They’ll prioritize offensive and defensive linemen during free agency but need help almost everywhere else, from linebacker to running back to cornerback.

The future assets Poles acquired will help bridge the talent gap. To get them, he had to pass up the closest thing the draft has to a sure thing. The No. 1 pick would have guaranteed the Bears their choice of any player, including Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson, considered the safest pick in the draft. Moving down just a few spots would have kept Anderson in play, had there been a run on quarterbacks. But he’ll be long gone by No. 9.

Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who was arrested last week for street racing and reckless driving, could sink that far. The Bears are evaluating his situation.

After attending the NFL Scouting Combine last week, the Bears huddled to determine just how comfortable they’d be moving down. Poles told the Sun-Times last week that he had to weigh the cost of missing out on drafting a blue-chip prospect against the benefits of acquiring future picks that could stabilize the Bears for years to come.

“You don’t want to go so far back that you may not get the caliber of talent that you need,” he said.

On Friday, he moved far back. Now comes the hard part: identifying the right talent at No. 9 and beyond.

He has almost seven weeks to do it.

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