Jalen Carter presents an intriguing puzzle for the Bears

The Bears are sitting with the No. 9 pick in the NFL Draft, and it offers an interesting thought exercise: What should they do if Carter is still available?

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Jalen Carter runs drills during Georgia’s Pro Day.

Jalen Carter runs drills during Georgia’s Pro Day.

John Bazemore)/AP

Everyone loves getting a bargain. Sports fans cherish the idea of their particular front office getting the drop on and taking advantage of another front office.

When discussing a trade, we minimize it to who won and who lost. There’s no higher compliment for a sports executive than being able to ‘‘fleece’’ another team on a trade. Getting high value for minimal return is how the best organizations are run. From a business standpoint, it makes all the sense in the world — until you realize the commodities are human beings, not parts or machinery.

Since the Bears traded the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft to the Panthers, general manager Ryan Poles has been lauded for the return he got. It’s hard to argue against how Poles turned a valuable asset into multiple assets, but there I go again, being reductive.

Now the Bears are sitting with the No. 9 pick, and it offers an interesting thought exercise: What should the Bears do if Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter is available?

Carter was in town this week to meet with the Bears, who I imagine had quite a few questions for him since the last time the parties met. Back then, Carter was the consensus best player in the draft. He was a pass-rushing menace that fit perfectly into the Bears’ defense at the most important position, 3-technique.

That’s still mostly true. But since the Bears interviewed Carter at the scouting combine, Carter has been publicly shamed, had an arrest warrant issued and pleaded no contest to a reckless-driving charge. That charge is connected to an accident that left two members of the Georgia football family dead. A few weeks later, Carter had a disastrous workout at Georgia’s pro day, looking unfocused and out of shape.

If the Bears still were sitting with the No. 1 pick, the debate about drafting Carter would be robust. Strangely enough, picking him at No. 9 wouldn’t create the same conversation. Why? Because he would be a bargain, a risk worth taking. The Bears already have turned their No. 1 pick into gold. This would allow Poles to take a player with high value in a discounted draft slot. The idea that the Bears could maximize the trade and get the best player in the draft would be a coup.

Carter’s value will be discussed for years. How would you feel if the Lions took him at No. 6? Matching him with a player such as defensive end Aidan Hutchinson could make Bears quarterback Justin Fields’ life much harder than it has to be. It might be worth it for the Lions to draft Carter to delay the Bears’ ascent. Do you want to be the team that passes on him?

Football aside, I’ve wondered about Carter and what the last few months have been like for him. He already has been judged by the state of Georgia. He will serve 80 hours of community service and live the next five years on probation, but that’s just the legal penalty for his reckless driving.

The harsh reality of Carter’s situation is that he has had to deal with the deaths of two friends. That alone is difficult. Who knows whether he has residual guilt about whatever role he might have played in the crash? He still might be grieving. What if that explains his weight gain and poor workout performance? When you see Carter on the field, he looks like a superhero. But the truth is that he just turned 22.

As a college professor, I work with students who are Carter’s age. You’d be impressed with how many are bright, mature adults and terrified with how many are navigating the minefield to adulthood. You probably have young relatives who fit into both categories.

To be clear, I’m not absolving Carter, but I do have empathy for him.

Which leads me back to players being more than commodities. My hope is that the Bears’ interview with Carter provided clarity. If they are going to draft him, they need to do it with clear eyes, with a plan of support. The investment in him can’t just be financial. The NFL is a bottom-line business, but you better make sure you’re adding the human element to your tally.

You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to
2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.

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