Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ track record will form in real time this season

In only his second year as a GM, there isn’t much to go off in evaluating Poles — yet. Whether he has been right or wrong on key decisions will come to light this season and determine how much trust he gets going forward.

SHARE Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ track record will form in real time this season
A photo of Bears general manager Ryan Poles on his phone while walking through Soldier Field.

Poles went into the offseason with the most salary-cap space in the NFL and the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

The Bears are asking for trust again. Given how many times everyone has been burned by this franchise, that’s a huge request.

While it’s not fair to hold general manager Ryan Poles accountable for the errors of his predecessors, that’s the environment he’s navigating during the rebuild. Everyone is perpetually skeptical and jaded when it comes to the Bears, and that has been earned.

For Poles’ part, he has been relatively transparent about his plans, saying outright this week he’s only 75% to 80% of the way through his to-do list on the rebuild. The Bears being 80% of what Poles envisions would be refreshing. They were probably at about 20% last season.

But as the preseason wrapped up this week, the Bears hadn’t gotten all the answers they had wanted. Receiver Chase Claypool turning it around is a perfect example of something the Bears hope happens but can’t be sure about. There isn’t concrete evidence of his progress.

‘‘ ‘Concrete’ is hard to say because we haven’t played a game, but up until the point [he got hurt], he was showing his best version of himself — making a lot of plays, bringing energy, physicality,’’ Poles said. ‘‘At that point, I felt really good.’’

But what Claypool showed last season was frustrating. His production dipped before the Steelers traded him to the Bears, then he put up only 14 catches for 140 yards in seven games. The Bears kept repeating how hard an adjustment it is to learn a new playbook coming in at midseason, but there’s no doubt they expected more from Claypool.

Poles maintained optimism but acknowledged in February that Claypool has ‘‘a lot to prove.’’ Claypool said it, too, and called this ‘‘the biggest year of my life.’’

The talent is there. Claypool was a second-round pick out of Notre Dame and had 121 catches for 1,733 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons. The Bears are looking for something in line with that.

If it feels like a pivotal season for Claypool, imagine the pressure on quarterback Justin Fields.

The Bears need clarity about whether he’s their franchise quarterback by the end of this season. They have a prime opportunity to reboot the position in the 2024 draft, if needed, and they need to know whether to use those picks to replace Fields or make upgrades around him.

Fields looked solid and shaky during preseason practices and didn’t play much in the games. It’s not readily discernible whether he’s going to be much different than he was last season, when he led all starting quarterbacks in yards rushing but was last in yards passing. He might show something far more sophisticated once the games start, but that can’t be assumed based on what he did in August.

By contrast, look at receiver DJ Moore. Poles touted him as a game-changer when he traded for him in March, and it’s obvious he was right nearly six months later. Moore has been overwhelming in practice and preseason games, and it looks as though he’s even better than the Bears thought he would be.

‘‘He’s just quicker than I thought he was,’’ coach Matt Eberflus said.

The Bears also have been talking up right guard Nate Davis as a landmark acquisition for their offensive line, but that’s another message that takes trust to believe. He played 60 of a possible 71 games, including playoffs, the last four seasons for the Titans, but his start with the Bears has been curious.

After signing a three-year, $30 million deal, Davis missed the first two weeks of organized team activities. He also missed extensive practice time in the preseason because of what Poles called ‘‘a combination of things.’’ He and Eberflus made clear it would’ve helped to have him on the field more.

‘‘When he has gone, it’s everything that we saw on tape [from the Titans], so I’m confident we’re going to be in a good place,’’ Poles said. ‘‘He’s doing well now. But knocking that rust off and getting going, that’s going to be the key thing.’’

The Bears have pointed to a lot of reasons why they’ll be better this season, but the preseason was rife with maybes. A lot of this could go either way.

And that’s where Poles will earn trust or distrust. As a second-year GM, he doesn’t have much of a track record; his is being formed in real time. Whether he has been right or wrong on key decisions will come to light once the games start, and that will determine how much trust he gets when the Bears hit the final phase of his rebuild — theoretically — next year.

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