Will Ryan Poles rue the day he passed on Jalen Carter?

The Georgia defensive tackle was available to the Bears at No. 9, but Poles instead traded one spot down and addressed another critical need by taking Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright. “Character’s always going to be important to us,” Poles said.

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Darnell Wright did not allow a sack in his last 18 games at Tennessee.

Darnell Wright did not allow a sack in his last 18 games at Tennessee.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Let the record show, Bears general manager Ryan Poles had his chance at Jalen Carter, and passed.

Until further notice, Poles’ 2023 draft will be known for the player he didn’t get as much as the player he did — Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright. If you would have told Bears fans in February that Poles could trade the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, drop to No. 9, acquire wide receiver DJ Moore and future draft picks, and still get Carter, the celebration would have already started.

At the time, that was a dream scenario. Carter, the enigmatic Georgia defensive tackle, not only was considered by some the best player in the entire draft, but also a perfect fit for Matt Eberflus’ defense — a dominant player at the 3-technique position that Eberflus calls “the engine that makes everything go.”

But Carter’s arrest on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in relation to a fatal car accident that killed a Georgia teammate and football staff member made him a character risk. And Carter’s reputation for cruising in games and not going all-out — the antithesis of Eberflus’ H.I.T.S principle that demands hustle and intensity from the snap of the ball to the echo of the whistle — also seemed problematic.

Poles declined to comment on why he passed on Carter, but indicated the character issue was a factor in the Bears’ evaluation of him. “I won’t comment specifically on him, but character’s always going to be important to us,” Poles said.

As it turned out, Poles was probably hoping someone would take him off the hook by drafting Carter before the Bears picked at No. 9. But the Seahawks at No. 5 took Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon. The Lions at No. 6 traded out of the top 10 to the Cardinals, who took Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. — a presumed Bears target. After the Raiders took Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson at No. 7 and the Falcons took Texas running back Bijan Robinson at No. 8, the Bears were on the clock, Carter was available and the suspense mounted.

It didn’t last long. The Bears moved down from No. 9 to No. 10 in a trade with the Eagles (acquiring a fourth-round pick in 2024). The Eagles took Carter. The Bears took Wright. And let the debate begin. Until further notice, everything Wright does with the Bears will be compared to everything Carter does for the Eagles.

Who knows how that will turn out. But Poles deserves applause for attacking a key position previous Bears have neglected. The 6-5, 333-pound Wright is the first offensive lineman the Bears have taken in the top 10 since Jimbo Covert in 1983 — before Poles was even born. Wright was a four-year starter at Tennessee and comes with a notable skin on the wall — shutting down Alabama’s Will Anderson in Tennessee’s 52-49 upset of the Crimson Tide in Knoxville last October. Wright did not allow a sack in his last 18 games.

Of the four top tackles in this draft, Wright was the only one with experience at right tackle. That would allow the Bears to keep Braxton Jones at left tackle after an impressive rookie season instead of moving him to the right side.

It probably didn’t help Poles that Carter went to the Eagles — a veteran, proven defense with the kind of locker room leaders who can help Carter grow up and flourish. It’s a little like having Patrick Mahomes go to the Chiefs and Andy Reid— a facet of the ill-fated Mitch Trubisky debacle that made former GM Ryan Pace look even worse.

That said, if Wright is everything he’s supposed to be, Poles can escape the criticism that dogged Pace. The Bears desperately need an anchor at either or both tackles, and the Braxton Jones/Wright combo has potential for a tackle tandem the Bears haven’t had in years.

So the 2023 draft quickly became a test of two of Poles’ supposed strengths — his acumen about offensive linemen and his intuition about people. He really needs to win this one.

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