After the Chicago Bears put the finishing touches on a 3-14 season Sunday with a 29-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings — clinching the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft — general manager Ryan Poles and his staff have plenty on their plate in the coming months. Brad Biggs’ weekly Bears mailbag begins with a question about what the team could get for that pick.
What teams could be in play for a trade up with the Bears for the No. 1 pick? — Bobby S., Chicago
It’s premature to rule anyone out. Let’s examine the teams owning the top-18 picks that could be in the market for a quarterback.
- Houston Texans, Nos. 2 and 12: Need a quarterback.
- Indianapolis Colts, No. 4: Needs a quarterback.
- Seattle Seahawks, No. 5: Needs a quarterback if Geno Smith is not re-signed.
- Las Vegas Raiders, No. 7: Needs a quarterback. Tom Brady?
- Atlanta Falcons, No. 8: Drafted Desmond Ridder in the third round last year.
- Carolina Panthers, No. 9: Needs a quarterback.
- Tennessee Titans, No. 11: Drafted Malik Willis in the third round last year.
- New York Jets, No. 13: Do they really believe in Zach Wilson?
- New England Patriots, No. 14: Mac Jones had a down season.
- Washington Commanders, No. 16: Sam Howell got a shot in Week 18.
These teams are going to end up in one of three buckets.
- Some will fill their need with a veteran quarterback. The Seahawks are a decent bet to re-sign Smith, who did a terrific job replacing Russell Wilson. Derek Carr will be on the market along with Jimmy Garoppolo, and Brady’s future is up in the air. There could be more veteran movement as well.
- Others will determine they’re not in love with any of the quarterbacks in this class or conclude the price to trade up is prohibitive. They also could have an eye on the 2024 quarterback class and prefer to wait.
- Some will be motivated to get a passer in this draft and have strong grades on one or more options to make them confident the timing is right. It takes only one team to fall in love with a prospect for a deal to happen. It takes two teams to generate a bidding war.
The next factor is how closely the teams in need will rank the quarterbacks in this class. If the Texans have similar grades on two, they could sit tight at No. 2 knowing they will get a quarterback they like, maybe even their first choice.
The Colts might need to make a move to get their top choice or even second choice as the Arizona Cardinals could be in position to trade out at No. 3. Most people will talk about the Colts as a possible trade partner for the Bears.
The No. 1 pick has been traded only once in the last 20 years. The Tennessee Titans moved out of the spot in 2016, dealing the pick to the Los Angeles Rams. The compensation there isn’t applicable when talking about a potential Bears-Colts deal. The Rams were at No. 15 when they moved to the top for quarterback Jared Goff. They traded their first, second and third-round picks in 2016 along with first- and third-round picks in 2017 to the Titans for Goff as well as fourth- and sixth-round picks. The Colts wouldn’t have to pay nearly as much to go from No. 4 to No. 1.
The Bears still could get a handsome return — if the Colts come calling — and might be able to get one of the top two non-quarterbacks at No. 4. The options are almost limitless. I am sure we’ll tackle many in the coming weeks.
What do you think about the possibility of the Bears trading for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins? — Marcus J., Thornton
This question popped up a while back and looks like it will be pertinent again with reports saying the Cardinals could be looking to move him in the offseason. Hopkins’ contract contains a no-trade clause. Guess what would get him to waive that clause? Money. More of it. He is under contract for two more years, due $19.45 million in 2023 and $14.915 million in 2024. That’s a bargain for a player of his caliber, but Hopkins almost surely would want an extension — that’s a fancy term for raise in this instance) — to facilitate any trade. His current deal averages $27.25 million per season (there were a lot of bonuses already paid out), so it’s going to require a large contract.
Hopkins led the Cardinals with 717 receiving yards this season despite missing eight games. He was suspended for the first six for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances and missed the final two with a knee injury. Hopkins turns 31 in June and missed seven games in 2021 with a pulled hamstring and then an MCL injury. So availability is a concern — he missed 15 games over the last two years after being a model of durability over his first eight seasons, sitting only two games.
Any team trading for Hopkins would not be getting the five-time Pro Bowl selection in his prime. That being said, he instantly would be the Bears’ best receiver. Hopkins’ age and the time he has missed the last two seasons doesn’t make it an ideal situation for the Bears, but I’m not sure such an opportunity will exist for them this offseason. It’s a situation worth discussing, but the Bears need to be honest about what their timetable for rebuilding is and where Hopkins will be when they’re better positioned to compete. There are compelling arguments either way.
Ryan Poles said the right and clichéd things about Chase Claypool. But clearly the Bears have to be deeply distressed. Is Claypool at all salvageable, or are the Bears learning the painful way what the Steelers already knew? — @mikebarbacovi
The trade doesn’t look good right now, and it would look bad if the Bears had given the Steelers the second-round pick received from the Baltimore Ravens in the Roquan Smith trade. That pick will be somewhere in the bottom third or so of Round 2, not the first pick. The 32nd pick that the Steelers own would be a valuable chip for the Bears.
Let’s not be overly dramatic about Claypool’s production or lack of it since the trade. The passing game was a wreck when Claypool arrived. His presence didn’t change that. Here is what the entire cast of receivers produced after the trade to the end of the season.
- Darnell Mooney: 15 receptions, 129 yards
- Claypool: 14, 140
- Equanimeous St. Brown: 10, 159
- Dante Pettis: 9, 90
- Byron Pringle: 8, 102
- N’Keal Harry: 4, 78
- Velus Jones Jr.: 4, 83
- Nsimba Webster: 2, 14
That is a total of 66 receptions for 795 yards in nine games from wide receivers, an average of 7.3 receptions for 88.3 yards. A good receiver does that on his own in one game. A high-powered passing offense would have two receivers hit 160 yards or more in a game. The Bears were in an abyss in the passing game.
Poles mentioned the challenges a wide receiver faces in a midseason move, having to learn a new offense and all of the nuances of it. There’s some truth to that, no question. But in my opinion, Claypool’s production in 2023 is going to be more closely tied to the overall health of the passing attack than time on task. Justin Fields has to be significantly better. The pass protection has to be significantly better. And the receivers have to be better. Claypool isn’t going to be able to will a lot more production out of the season ahead. Just my take.
I also suspect the Bears believe their wide receivers are better than most people consider. I’m not defending the group as a whole — the Bears have a clear need for a No. 1 target and they’re not the only team without one. There are maybe 12-15 legitimate No. 1 receivers in the league. But the Bears believe Claypool and Mooney can be very productive, and Poles knows Byron Pringle is a lot better than the 10 catches he put up in a season that started with injuries. The Bears paid him $4 million, and Poles knew precisely what he was buying based on their time together with the Kansas City Chiefs. The team simply couldn’t get any traction throwing the ball.
Hopefully for the Bears, Claypool and others will be able to ascend. Otherwise we’ll be reminded of the time Muhsin Muhammad said Chicago is “where receivers go to die.”
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Ryan Poles not signing Roquan Smith to a contract as the highest-paid linebacker before the season is his worst move or non-move and the only one so bad as to be indefensible. What does Brad say? — @billbrasier
The Bears traded their best player when they shipped Smith to the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 31 for second- and fifth-round picks. It created another hole on a defense that was one of the worst in the league. The Bears had the cap space to accommodate a deal for Smith and still have a ton of flexibility. That said, Poles established a value for Smith and held his ground in negotiations. Does that mean it was the right move? Not necessarily. But a front office has to establish parameters for how it does business. Had the Bears extended Smith, he would have been a building block as they go about reconstructing the roster. Without Smith, I wouldn’t put weak-side linebacker in their top-four needs on that side of the ball only. If you were stacking needs on defense, my order would be three-technique tackle, edge rusher, cornerback, another edge rusher and then either a second defensive tackle or a weak-side linebacker. If Smith played a more premium position, I think the Bears would have acted differently. No matter where you order the position on the list of needs, it’s a hole until the Bears fill it.
With the season over, there is constant talk about how much cap space the Bears have but also about it being a bad year to sign free agents. I know you overpay in free agency, so would it be wise for the Bears NOT to use all their cap space and then potentially get stuck in bad contracts? Wouldn’t it be better to spend wisely and then have cap space next year when hopefully there are better options? — Amy G., Wheaton
Ryan Poles on Tuesday talked about seeking “value” in free agency. That doesn’t mean heading to the thrift store for free agents as he did last year, but it does mean working to ensure the Bears aren’t throwing around silly money in contracts that will look bad in a short period of time. I believe Poles will be aggressive in targeting a handful of starters in free agency, but there is no question the organization should be able to roll some cap money into 2024 so the Bears can remain nimble in the marketplace.
Do you get the sense Bears executives feel they must trade down to get the full value of the No. 1 pick? Or can they just turn in a card for a player with that pick to think they’ve maximized the value of the pick in the process of their rebuild? — @matthewcstevens
I don’t believe they feel they have to do anything at this moment. The season just ended. How could Ryan Poles know specifically what he wants to do with the pick when the scouting process is only now entering the final stage and 15 weeks remain until the draft? You’re talking about value, and that is what the Bears have to determine. Where is the value in this draft? What does it look like at pick 1.1 (Round 1, Pick 1)? What does it look like at 1.10? How about 1.20? There is way too much information that needs to be gathered, analyzed and filtered in the next few months to make a call right now. Trade-down scenarios make for great discussion, and a lot of times we lose sight of the fact that to win a deal like that in slam-dunk fashion, you have to hit on nearly every pick. Let’s let this situation breathe a little bit.
In your 12 observations about Bears GM Ryan Poles’ year-end assessment, you twice mentioned left tackle as a priority. So you don’t see rookie LT Braxton Jones, who played every snap on offense, as the guy going forward? — Pat R., Chicago
Jones very well could be the starting left tackle in Week 1 next season. Poles was pretty positive about Jones, which was warranted. Jones performed better than expected as a fifth-round pick at that position, and now he has a base from which to grow. But I don’t believe he played to a level at which you wouldn’t see if you could get a significant upgrade. If an elite left tackle is available, the Bears would be wise to consider the cost, right? It is a premium position after all, and you’d feel better having a guy there you know is a difference maker over a player who is still in a developmental phase. Every premium position should be a priority for the Bears this offseason because they were deficient at every one of them. That’s usually the case when you lose 14 games.
What is the furthest you can see the Bears trading down? — @gorillamna
That’s a good question, and I think you probably have to look at it in ranges. Would they trade down to remain in the top five? The next range would be somewhere between No. 6 or 10 or 12, depending on how many “blue” players the Bears believe will be in this draft. There are not 32 blue players in every draft when college scouts complete their evaluations. The third range would be somewhere in the middle of Round 1.
Obviously the lower the Bears go in a trade-down scenario, the larger the package is going to be. That package also likely would contain more draft capital in 2024 and potentially 2025 than a move to remain in the top five or 10. I suppose that depends on what Ryan Poles’ goal is. A trade down to acquire significant future draft capital could put the Bears in position to pursue a quarterback in 2024 in a class some believe will have better options.
What’s easier — getting better on offense or getting better on defense? — @conradsomm
We’re about to find out. The Bears have nowhere to go but up. If Justin Fields is the quarterback the club hopes, and a better line and maybe more skill talent help him ascend, natural growth by the offense should be easier to come by. The Bears have needs everywhere on defense with the exception of safety, and that is only if veteran Eddie Jackson returns from a Lisfranc injury. The hope is Jackson will be back. But they need a total overhaul on defense and were bad anyway you slice it.
When do you think a new team president will be chosen? Are they going to be pretty exclusive to the business side, or do you think they will influence football decisions? — @tn5280
The buzz is the Bears could have a replacement for Ted Phillips soon, and folks who have worked with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren believe the job could be his if he wants it. What parameters will come with the position, I don’t know. That is up to Chairman George McCaskey. Remember, the Bears switched the operational flow chart last year, and GM Ryan Poles now reports directly to McCaskey instead of the team president. You would imagine a new stadium in Arlington Heights will be the kind of project that takes up a ton of time for whoever replaces Phillips. No matter how they draw it up, the owner always has control, right?