Bears GM Ryan Poles balances 2023 ambition with 2024 plans

His patience paid off in the signing of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, which was expensive but was contained to one season.

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Bears general manager Ryan Poles chats on the sidelines.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles chats on the sidelines.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A general manager’s decisions speak louder than anything he says into a microphone, and the message from Ryan Poles this offseason has been clear: The Bears want to maximize what they can be this season.

The Bears talked about that last August, but it was the world’s worst-kept secret that the 2022 season would be a burn year in their rebuild. It would’ve been counterintuitive to add veterans, especially pricey ones, to a team going nowhere.

Poles reinforced the shift from demolition to construction, however, when he signed defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and tight end Marcedes Lewis a week or so into training camp. Ngakoue, 28, fills a glaring need, and the 39-year-old Lewis has a wealth of lessons from his 17-year career that Poles would like his young roster to learn.

Ngakoue is the more substantial acquisition and, upon arrival, was the Bears’ most proven pass rusher, That includes DeMarcus Walker, whom they signed in the first wave of free agency for $21 million over three seasons.

Ngakoue is flawed and has bounced around the league, but he has had a minimum of eight sacks every season. No one else on the roster has hit that number even once.

Everybody said the Bears desperately needed help, and some even took their concerns directly to Poles. He said a third-base coach at one of his son’s baseball games yelled it to him this summer and a beachgoer in Maui intruded on his family vacation to make sure he grasped the urgency.

‘‘Finally got that done,’’ a deadpan Poles said.

But why the delay? Because Poles still has to be careful as he walks the fine line between ambition and patience. The Bears’ push this season is for a playoff spot, not the Lombardi Trophy, so he can’t do anything that ruins his opportunity to keep building next year.

Ngakoue had said in June that he wanted a multiyear contract from a team contending for the Super Bowl. But from the time Poles started getting grilled about this in April, his comments consistently indicated he needed to contain this commitment to one season.

‘‘It’s really the contract, all of that, as well as kind of prioritizing who’s out there and what the draft was going to look like,’’ Poles said. ‘‘We had to navigate all of that to finally come to this.’’

But it was imperative he did it. The Bears wouldn’t have had a viable pass rush without Ngakoue, and that deficiency would have undermined what looks like a very good secondary Poles has assembled.

‘‘It’s hard enough playing corner in this league . . . and you have a quarterback that sits there comfortable [and] can just sit there and tear a defense up,’’ cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. ‘‘Having some pass rushers that can really make them uncomfortable [gives] us more opportunities.’’

It’ll be a bit before either new player is on the field. Lewis was at Halas Hall on Saturday but didn’t practice, and Poles said Ngakoue went home ‘‘to get all of his stuff and close up shop’’ and likely will start practicing Tuesday.

Lewis’ role will include teaching, but it won’t be merely ceremonial. While he had only six catches for the Packers last season, he played 41% of their offensive snaps and is regarded as a strong run-blocker.

‘‘It’s incredible at his age,’’ Poles said. ‘‘His tape is still good.’’

The knowledge helps, too. When Bears tight end Robert Tonyan was asked what he learned from Lewis when they were teammates with the Packers the last five seasons, he replied, ‘‘Everything.’’

These are sensible signings for a team trying to be competitive, and filling in some gaps shows Poles believed he already had a competitive roster.

It’s a lot more interesting at Halas Hall now that the Bears are adding players like these instead of unloading them, like they were a year ago.

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