Hit-and-miss: Bears GM Ryan Poles learns valuable QB-evaluation lessons

Poles’ miss on P.J. Walker was mitigated by his success — so far — with undrafted free agent Tyson Bagent. Those lessons could come in handy in the future. “There’s a learning lesson in every success and failure,” Poles said. “I learn something new every day.”

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Buffalo Bills v Chicago Bears

Bears rookie Tyson Bagent (celebrating a first down against the Bills on Saturday) is currently the No. 2 quarterback. behind Justin Fields.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bears general manager Ryan Poles is all about building a winning culture, fostering good relationships, favoring aggression over fear, problem solving through honest communication and collaboration and all of that modern-day general manager stuff.

But as important as those admirable ambitions are, his long-term success could hinge on one aspect of the job more than any other: Can he get the quarterback right?

After committing to Justin Fields after a 3-14 season in 2022, we still don’t know whether Poles is the next Bill Polian or Ryan Pace. But his search for a back-up to Fields ended up providing a little bit of a warm-up for the second-year GM in quarterback evaluation school.

The results were hit-and-miss — aren’t they all with quarterbacks? Poles whiffed on free agent P.J. Walker. The former Panthers quarterback signed a two-year, $4 million contract ($2 million guaranteed), but struggled so badly in training camp and the preseason that Poles chucked the $2 million and cut Walker on Monday.

“It’s not about me and what my decision was. When it plays out, it plays out,” Poles said. “I’ve always felt — and I’ve had conversations with some of my old teammates that played in the league for a long time — [players] feel you kind of fudge stuff. If you’re off and you don’t make a change and everyone sees what’s going on on the field, they feel that. So we had to make the best decision for us, and that’s what we did.”

But the pain of admitting that error was eased by the storybook ascension of Tyson Bagent, an undrafted free agent from Division II Shepherd University. The Bagent story has just begun to unfold, so it can’t be certified as a “hit” yet. But at least the Bears have a quarterback who already has done something few Bears quarterbacks ever do: overachieve.

From those humble beginnings in D-II, Bagent arguably won his roster spot — and the current back-up role — as much as Walker lost his. With three enviable quarterback traits that often are universal — command, poise and accuracy — Bagent became a player of intrigue. No moment seems too big for him.

The Bears are expected to sign veteran Nathan Peterman to the practice squad — or the 53-man roster — to go into the regular-season opener against the Packers on Sept. 10 with three quarterbacks. “We take a look at everything. That’s our plan right now,” Poles said.

But it’s still possible that Bagent will be the back-up to Fields against the Packers. “We gotta work through that and see what we’re comfortable with,” Poles said. “It’s hard to answer that question right now.”

That Bagent is in the conversation seems like an evaluation win at this point. Scouts Jeff King and Tom Bradway raved about Bagent after a visit to Shepherd. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy coached Bagent in the Senior Bowl. And Poles signed him in free agency. And the kid has been better than expected. For the Bears, that’s pretty good.

It remains to be seen if this turns out to be a short-lived feel-good story. But for now, the miss with Walker and the current hit with Bagent are two more lessons learned for Poles about quarterback evaluation.

“It’s a year-to-year thing,” Poles said. “You evaluate and try to put guys in a good position to be successful and carry over and go to the next step from you saw on tape. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. And you also talk about not putting a ceiling on players. Tyson comes in, takes it one day at a time and shows consistency. [In the end], you gotta make decisions that are best for the team.”

And for a young general manager, those are quarterback-evaluation lessons that figure to come in handy in the future. And maybe not the distant future.

“There’s a learning lesson in every success and failure,” Poles said. “I learn something new every day.”

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