Those trade partners that didn’t materialize for Ryan Poles on Friday night came from every direction Saturday.
The new Chicago Bears general manager, who made it known since January that he would love to have more draft capital, did just that, starting in the morning when he sent a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Chargers for two picks at the end of Round 7.
The Bears sat out the fourth round and when it was time to get involved in Round 5, Poles traded down three times, cutting deals with the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans. When all was said and done, he went from having three Day 3 picks to eight, nearly tripling the number of lottery tickets he and staff members were scratching off on the second floor of Halas Hall.
It was the first time the Bears had eight Day 3 picks. The NFL moved to a three-day draft format in 2010. The team has had eight picks in Rounds 4 through 7 three other times in the last 25 years (1999, 2003 and 2008). In that era, it was a two-day draft.
Safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Zack Bowman and tight end Kellen Davis were the most impactful Day 3 picks in 2008. In 2003, it was safety Todd Johnson and wide receiver Bobby Wade. In 1999, it was linebackers Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman and defensive back Jerry Azumah. Colvin and Holdman were Round 4 picks.
Poles didn’t have the draft capital to invest high picks in the offensive line — not when the strength of the board Friday in Round 2 was in the secondary after nine O-linemen had their names called the day before in Round 1 . So he threw lots of picks at the position, choosing four linemen in a span of six picks. The Bears added Braxton Jones, a potential left tackle from Southern Utah, Zach Thomas, a tackle that projects as a guard from San Diego State, Doug Kramer, a five-year starter at center for Illinois, and Ja’Tyre Carter, a guard from Southern.
“I’m an offensive line guy,” Poles said of passing on O-linemen in Round 2. “Obviously, I would fire away at all of them if I could. But it really comes down to the preparation. It comes down to the board and where guys are valued. Where we sat there were two good starting level defensive players, and I would have made a huge mistake for this organization to say, ‘Let’s leave them there, let someone else take them, and we’re going to go to offense where they’re not on the same level,’ and then you’re kicking yourself a year or two later when that guy’s an All-Pro.”
The moves Saturday left the Bears one short of being able to put a starting unit on the field next weekend for rookie minicamp. If new offensive line coach Chris Morgan can get one to develop into a starter and maybe have another project as a multi-position backup, that would be a victory.
“Maybe a process where you start depth and work your way into a starter,” Poles said. “There’s going to be some surprises. We see that across the league all the time where guys shoot to the top quickly and earn that trust and they make plays and they’re rolling.
“Obviously you hope for the best, but there might be a process. It takes time. This league’s extremely hard and tough. There’s a lot thrown at these guys, but that’s why we really emphasize the makeup that they have inside of them because they’re willing to go through the hard times, they’re willing to listen, they’re willing to put their pride away and start from the bottom and work up.”
The Bears don’t have a great history of turning late picks into starters up front. They’re hoping Larry Borom, a fifth-round selection last year, pans out at tackle with a new staff in place. The only late picks that got a shot and worked out as starters in the last decade were a pair of tackles drafted by former GM Phil Emery — Jordan Mills in the fifth round in 2013 and Charles Leno in the seventh round in 2014.
Poles left open the possibility to bring in competition for the line, citing the possibility of veterans being released by other teams, street free agents and even a potential trade, which wouldn’t be a surprise even if it’s not for a high-profile name.
Surely Poles would have loved the opportunity to add one of the top offensive tackles in the class, something he would have been able to do with the seventh overall pick if the Bears were not paying off the bill for quarterback Justin Fields. He identified a secondary in dire need of help and went with where the talent was Friday. Now the Bears play the long game with their rookie tackles and wait to see what Borom and Teven Jenkins, a second-round pick a year ago, can do.
It’s a draft that on the surface didn’t do a lot for Fields, but the coaching staff has the benefit of the doubt for now. Velus Jones, the rocket wide receiver from Tennessee, wouldn’t have made sense for the former coaching staff. The Bears couldn’t come up with creative ways to involve Cordarrelle Patterson and the Tarik Cohen experience was good for only one season.
If new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy can create ways to involve Jones — and comparisons to Deebo Samuel really aren’t fair at this point — the Bears might have a dangerous weapon in space, the kind of player who can turn a simple play into big yards.
That’s also what made the sixth-round selection of Baylor running back Trestan Ebner intriguing. He was a special teams dynamo in the Big 12 but he’s also a natural pass catcher out of the backfield — not something you would associate with David Montgomery or Khalil Herbert.
Ebner is going to have his work cut out to earn playing time, but he could add another element (along with speed) to the offense. Versatility and speed are something every team seeks.
Poles talked Friday about chipping away when asked about improving the O-line before the end of the offseason program, describing a methodical process that’s going to take time. It sounded in many ways like the description of a rebuild. If the Bears hit with a couple of their eight Day 3 picks, that will be part of chipping away.
But just remember: we’re looking at final day picks without a fourth-rounder. They’re dice rolls.
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