What’s next for Bears GM Ryan Poles after paying Cole Kmet?

Players like to see their friends get rich. They also like to think they’re next. The Bears have two players who can make that claim with a straight face — and one who might not be able to.

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 Bears general manager Ryan Poles

Bears general manager Ryan Poles chats on the first day of practice at Halas Hall.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A player stopped general manager Ryan Poles as he walked off the practice field Thursday to thank him. Giving tight end Cole Kmet a four-year, $50 million contract extension the day before “sent a ton of energy through the locker room,” Poles said the player told him.

Players like to see their friends get rich.

They also like to think they’re next.

The Bears have two players who can make that claim with a straight face — and one who might not be able to.

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson, chosen seven picks after Kmet in the second round in 2020, wants a contract extension before Week 1. So does wide receiver Darnell Mooney now that he has recovered from a nasty broken ankle suffered in November.

Chase Claypool undoubtedly does, too, but Poles has said since the offseason that he needed to see more out of the enigmatic wide receiver before committing to him for the long haul.

Poles hadn’t made a long-term commitment to anyone until Wednesday. Kmet was the first multiyear extension he’d handed out since taking the Bears job in January 2022.

“This being my first extension, it sends a good message,” Poles said after the Bears’ second training-camp practice. “I think everyone knows me, what I stand for, what I believe in in terms of taking care of your players.

“But there is always action that needs to come behind words. So I do think it helps the locker room see that, ‘All right, if I continue to do what I’m doing, there’s a chance I can be in that mix.’ ’’

Johnson is the safest bet among the three — if he and the Bears can find common ground. He’s only 24 and can blossom into one of the league’s best cornerbacks. He surely wants to be paid like one.

Johnson skipped part of voluntary OTAs to stay in California with his daughter and swore when he returned that it wasn’t to make a statement about wanting an extension.

Asked about the status of talks Thursday, Poles spoke only of a vague process. The Bears have reams of research that support the decisions they make — and, he said, ensure they stay disciplined.

“I’d say, like, the relationship’s good,” Poles said. “He’s out showing that he can perform at a high level and becoming the player that he wants to be — and improve.”

The Bears said an extension for Mooney would be in play only after his recovery from injury. A 2020 fifth-round pick, Mooney missed the Bears’ entire offseason program but returned for the start of training camp. He has been used lightly in the first two practices.

Poles has long admired Mooney. On the eve of his first NFL Scouting Combine, Poles referred to him as the “bright spot” of the offense. But the Bears get to determine what constitutes a healthy player. Poles said the Bears will monitor his acceleration, deceleration and sprint speed, among other factors gleaned from their in-practice GPS devices, to determine when he’s back to normal.

Then it might be time for a payday.

“If that’s something they want to do, that’s something they want to do,” Mooney said Wednesday. “I’m a professional at football. I don’t really do contracts. That’s what I’ve got an agent for.”

Kmet’s contract was always going to be the easiest for the Bears. He’s a hometown kid who had a healthy, complete season last year. But getting his contract done might portend more deals.

Since the day he took the Bears job, Poles has been cognizant of precedent. That’s part of the reason why he felt it was essential for him to decide against signing defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi when he failed his physical. Poles knows decisions he makes will be noted by agents and players when it’s their time to sign a deal.

“You want to stay disciplined regardless, and you want to be careful how you do things,” he said. “Because the way that you do things, for one, is going to be held against you, and it’s going to be a precedent for how you do things with everything else.”

Precedent, for the first time, favors another deal getting done.

The Bears have the money; their $27.9 million in salary-cap space is the most in the NFL. They still have needs to fill, though. Poles wants to add a veteran edge rusher, via trade or free agency, before the start of the season.

Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram and 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney remain free agents.

Houston has played for Poles’ Chiefs and coach Matt Eberflus’ Colts, and Ngakoue was mentored by Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith.

Poles stressed this week that it “takes two to make sure it works out.” When it does, it will cut into the Bears’ gobs of cap space. Leonard Floyd, the former Bear, got $7 million on a one-year deal from the Bills last month.

Poles said that he wants to operate the same way he would if the Bears were pressed hard up against the cap.

“It’s not like we’re just making it rain money,” he said.

Kmet’s deal, though, makes it more likely that dollars will end up in another player’s hands — and soon.

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