Former Chiefs exec Ryan Poles is playing hardball early in his tenure as the Chicago Bears general manager, as illustrated by Roquan Smith.
Shortly after we all flipped our calendars to a new year (dated reference), Ryan Poles likely realized his days with the Kansas City Chiefs would soon be over.
For the previous couple of years, more than one NFL analyst had mentioned Poles as a bright young executive to watch in hiring cycles, and he’d even earned an official interview to be the general manager of the Carolina Panthers (along with Chiefs cap manager Brandt Tilis). In January, he was being courted by the New York Giants, coveted by the Minnesota Vikings, and chased by the Chicago Bears. It even felt like Poles might have his choice of multiple jobs before the hiring process was over.
In the end, Poles landed with the Bears and came packaged with head coach Matt Eberflus as the new regime to lead the team toward success and a hopeful Super Bowl title—a chase that has eluded them since their championship in 1985. For their losses, the Chiefs were rewarded with third-round compensatory picks in both the 2022 and 2023 NFL Drafts.
It’s always interesting to watch how a general manager will approach the task of rebuilding a roster with his vision, and Poles has already proven that he’s willing to go his own way (insert Fleetwood Mac joke). Instead of finding playmakers to grow with Justin Fields and a barren offense in the draft, Poles ended up picking back-to-back defensive backs. Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker might turn out to be stellar talents, but it was certainly a curious choice to come away with two DBs with their only top-50 selections.
From there, Poles has also shown plenty of patience in the way he’s dealt with Robert Quinn. The Bears have an aging asset on a team going nowhere who is coming off of a career year. (Quinn had 18.5 sacks last season.) Yet instead of trying to get something for him via trade, Poles is holding onto Quinn while potentially needy teams (including KC) are finding answers elsewhere (a la Carlos Dunlap).
The biggest decision these days is what to do with linebacker Roquan Smith. While Smith has never made a Pro Bowl, he’s earned two All-Pro nods and there’s no denying he’s one of the league’s most dynamic linebackers. The Bears defense would cave in without Smith and everyone knows it. Yet instead of ponying up for a new deal, Poles has apparently drawn a thick line in the proverbial sand, much to the chagrin of Smith’s representatives.
On Tuesday, Smith came forward with a public trade demand in a lengthy statement posted on social media:
Smith’s statement talks up his respect for the franchise, his desire to remain with the team, and his hopes of being a part of the great defensive tapestry for such a storied franchise. He also appeals to the team’s ownership to intervene—”maybe they can salvage this”—and all the while, he’s throwing a first-year general manager under the bus.
The draft was a sign that Ryan Poles didn’t care about instant grades or fan opinions. The lack of a trade of Quinn shows Poles’ willingness to be patient. Confronted by this statement, Poles will now likely show the same resolve he’s shown at other points in his first offseason as general manager by holding a hard line for Smith—like it or not.
Some general managers cave into the pressure to keep certain players happy or to make moves for the sake of making them. Poles seems to know the franchise isn’t going anywhere in 2022 but he’s also not going to let anyone hold that over his head. He knows he needs to spend money but he’s not going to allow someone to demand it. Right or wrong, Poles’ posture to this point is a confident one, and it’s either going to lead to Bears to darker places than the mediocrity they’ve enjoyed in the Matt Nagy years or it might just be what’s needed to take this team to new heights.
If you ask Roquan Smith, the answer is the former.