Praising the Poles Project: Evaluation, Aggression, Confidence.

| May 3rd, 2024

I don’t know what the Jerry Angelo “project” was; his tenure was marred by a pernicious reluctance to add top receiver talent and ultimately doomed by Caleb Hanie’s inability to play the quarterback position at a high school level.

I don’t know what the Phil Emery “project” was; his tenure never got out of the starting gate, as hiring Marc Trestman (and not Bruce Arians) derailed any potential success for the organization on his watch.

I think I know what the Ryan Pace “project” was, but he learned the single most important lesson for an NFL GM: if you get the quarterback wrong your chance at success is minimal. (And he technically got it wrong twice.)

The Ryan Poles Project may sound like the name of a 70s prog rock band, but it is actually the most coherently executed management plan the Chicago Bears have displayed in forty years. It’s had a clear, definable trajectory since George McCaskey met Poles at that Blackhawks Bar in O’Hare (or something). But its legibility took form even before that meeting.

When the Bears were interviewing general manager candidates to replace Pace, no candidate was more honest than Poles. He looked George and Ted in the eyes and told them, in no uncertain terms, that the roster was crap. He told them he would have to burn the entire thing to the ground, collapse it like one of those Vegas casinos that can no longer survive an endless series of minor renovations. He told them what he envisioned was not a quick fix, but instead a multi-year project that would end with the Bears being consistent contenders. He needed them to commit to that vision, that project. And they did.

Flus brought in.

But say goodbye

to Khalil, Bob Quinn

and some Roquan guy.

Loss after loss,

Fans head for the hills.

But hold up, hoss.

It’s Davis Mills!

Like healing a leper,

They’ve got the first pick.

And here comes Dave Tepper,

the des-per-ate prick.

Poles has not been without mistakes (who is?) but some of his mistakes now seem retrospectively understandable. Many folks believed it was a mistake for Poles not to build around quarterback Justin Fields. But it is very clear, at least to me, that Poles never believed Fields was a quarterback he should build around. Poles never verbally endorsed Fields as the quarterback of the future and said nothing when his head coach and offensive coordinator were outwardly critical of the signal caller early in the 2023 season. While many Fields’ supporters blame the offensive line for his struggles, Poles has made a clear statement that he doesn’t, as the club will head into the 2024 campaign with only one starter change on that unit.

Poles heard the fans chanting for Fields during the final home game of the 2023 season and he did what confident executives do: he ignored the noise.

Luke Getsy certainly shared in the failures of the offense last season, but I have been told by reliable sources that both Poles and Matt Eberflus gave Getsy ringing endorsements when contacted by other teams. This is unsurprising, considering Getsy was almost immediately re-hired in the league as an OC after being a finalist for the gig in three different locations. Guys don’t get that far in the process without references, especially guys who have only been an offensive coordinator at one location.

Poles has built these modern Bears with a construction strategy “borrowed” from the bits and bobs of other successful organizations. Could Justin Fields have been a good quarterback moving forward? Perhaps. But he learned from Andy Reid and the Chiefs that settling for good is not good enough at the most important position in team sports. He’s shown a certain disregard for draft picks that has come to define the McVay/Snead era in Los Angeles.  He’s even shown a Packers-esque reluctance to splurge on big ticket free agents, even at positions of need. He trusts his evaluations. He’s aggressive in pursuing upgrades. He’s confident in his decision making.

And it is his convictions, his willingness to be wrong in those conviction, his unending confidence to stick to those convictions despite being wrong, which I find most impressive. And while, yes, that might be the worst sentence I have ever constructed on this website, let me explain. In 2022, Poles gave up a second-round pick, mid-season, to acquire Chase Claypool, in an effort to support his quarterback. It was a bold move and if it failed Poles was going to look foolish. It failed. He did. But in 2023 Poles did not hesitate to stick to his convictions and repeat that aggression. He gave up another second-round pick for Montez Sweat, this time to support his head coach, and the move changed the entire tone of the defense. Evaluation. Aggression. Confidence.

What about drafting Tory Taylor, a punter, in the fourth round? Is it about conviction? Sure, it is, but it also sends a definitive message into every single position room within the organization: the rebuild is over. The Bears are not adding pieces for future success. They’re adding pieces for September.

The Poles Project is not paint-by-numbers. It is wholly of this individual, and yet it has a followable, almost traceable, logic. There was no question at season’s end that Poles was going to move on from Fields and draft Caleb Williams. He didn’t have to say it out loud. It tracked. It was the next, and most important, step in the process. And if Williams takes major steps quickly, the Bears will be aggressive midseason to patch the final holes on this roster. Could another edge rusher be snatched away from a fledgling organization for a second rounder? If so, we know Poles won’t mind the risk. This is a risk-based project. He’ll make his evaluations, be aggressive in pursuing better, and confidently move forward.

And if Williams takes those steps, quickly or otherwise, the Poles Project is going to be a long-term endeavor in Chicago. Based on what we’ve seen over his first three years, the team is in good hands.