GM Ryan Poles not letting guaranteed money shape Bears roster

In cutting P.J. Walker and Alex Leatherwood, he proved that the Bears wouldn’t let money get in the way of what they felt was the right decision — even if it was fixing a problem of their own making.

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Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles walked on the sidelines before the Bears took on the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game at Soldier Field.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When the Bears released quarterback P.J. Walker on Sunday, they did more than make rookie Tyson Bagent their likely second-stringer. They proved that they wouldn’t let money get in the way of what they felt was the right decision, even if it was fixing a -problem of their own making.

General manager Ryan Poles cut Walker, despite giving him $2.01 million guaranteed on a two-year, $4 million contract. And then he waived guard Alex Leatherwood, the former Raiders first-round draft pick, after a failed yearlong experiment. Presuming no one claims Leatherwood, the Bears will carry a $4.59 million dead-cap charge this season as a result of the four-year, fully guaranteed deal they inherited last year.

No team spent more in 2022 dead-cap charges — money given to players no longer on the team — than the rebuilding Bears. This year, Poles is -proving that he won’t let finances dictate his roster decisions.

Walker, who struggled throughout training camp, might have sensed it coming -Saturday. After the Bears’ 24-21 loss to the Bills at -Soldier Field, he admitted he hadn’t been playing well.

“I ain’t a fool,” he said. “I can read the room. I know what it is. It’s a business, and if you ain’t performing, you ain’t going to be able to play.”

Walker finished the preseason with a 55.7 passer rating, helped by his Saturday performance in the fourth quarter — against Bills players likely to be cut — in which he went 6-for-11 for 71 yards and a touchdown. Despite his inconsistency this summer, the combination of Walker’s salary and experience still seemed to favor him sticking on the roster. He made five of his seven career starts for the Panthers last year. On Oct. 23, he posted a 126.5 passer rating in an 18-point win against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

“I’ve done everything I can to help everyone in the room,” he said Saturday. “For me, it’s not about just whether I make this team. There are a whole lot of teams out there.’’

The Bears had planned on giving starter Justin Fields a veteran sounding board as the No. 2 quarterback. Instead, the Bears figure to carry Bagent on their 53-man roster. It’s a risky move — one year ago, he was preparing to lead Division II Shepherd University into their season opener at Southern Connecticut State in front of about 3,000 fans.

The Bears still could have a veteran on their roster after Tuesday’s cut deadline, whether they slip Nathan Peterman through waivers and add him to the practice squad or pursue an outside passer. It would be difficult for a second-string quarterback new to Halas Hall to learn the Bears’ playbook in time for the Sept. 10 season opener.

Bagent has impressed the Bears with a comfortability that belies his small-school rookie status. He had a passer rating of more than 97 in each of his first two preseason appearances before struggling as the second-stringer Saturday.

“I can sense that people are surprised … that I’ve been able to have any success coming from where I came from,” he said -Saturday.

The Bears took a chance on Leatherwood, the Raiders’ No. 17 overall pick in 2021, when they claimed him Aug. 31. Two weeks later, he was put on the non-football injury list with mononucleosis. He wasn’t activated for -another six weeks. Leatherwood played only 32 snaps off the bench for the Bears last year and fell behind former seventh-round pick Ja’Tyre Carter in the team’s pecking order of guards this preseason.

Also Sunday, the Bears waived tackle Gabe Houy with an injury designation. He was carted off the field with a right leg injury Saturday.

The Bears must trim their roster to 53 players by 3 p.m. Tuesday.

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