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Bears GM Poles discusses free agency approach

Bears general manager Ryan Poles
Bears general manager Ryan Poles

INDIANAPOLIS – The start of the NFL free agency period is just 15 days away and Ryan Poles is prepared to continue building out the Bears roster.

Entering his second season in Chicago, Poles has a significant amount of salary cap space to utilize – along with possessing the No. 1 draft pick – but being deliberate in the free agency process is a key factor for the Bears general manager.

"Just like the draft, we have players that are going to be in certain buckets for values, and this year we have the ability to approach and go after a few of those guys," Poles told reporters Tuesday at the NFL Combine. "I think we're going to stay selective. We're going to have parameters that kind of match our values and our research."

By approaching free agency from an aggressive yet selective mindset, Poles is thinking about the future implications of this offseason. While the Bears may not have the same assets in future draft and free agency cycles, being smart about upcoming moves can ensure similar flexibility.

"We have an unbelievable analytics team, our cap group," Poles said. "We have Matt [Feinstein] and Cliff [Stein], who do a great amount of research to kind of keep us in that range in making smart decisions. Because the key is we don't waste this opportunity and do something that's not sound, that doesn't allow us to have this flexibility in years to come, so that's the balance: take advantage of now but still not trying to hurt you down the road."

Starting March 13 at 11 a.m. (CT), NFL clubs can contact and enter into contract negotiations with certified agents of players who are set to become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2022 player contracts.

The Bears can then begin making free agency moves as early as 3 p.m. (CT) March 15. While Poles knows the free agency period is often unpredictable, the objective of the organization never wavers.

"The thing about free agency is you always have to be on your toes to adapt and adjust but at the end of the day, I'll put it simple, [the goal] is to improve our football team," Poles said. "Get as many guys on our roster that can help us do what we are trying to do, which is win a lot of games."

In his end-of-season press conference Jan. 10, Poles was asked what he anticipates being the Bears' most pressing need heading into the 2023 season. While he didn't identify a specific necessity, Poles said he will "always go back to the premium positions" like pass rushers and offensive linemen.

On Tuesday, Poles told reporters the offensive line is an area "we're always going to look to add."

"We went through it this year, and I've talked about it before, your starting five - that's not going to be the group more than likely at the end of the season," Poles said. "So you've got to be deep, you've got to be healthy, you've got to be versatile. Guys need to play inside and outside. So we're comfortable with some of the guys that are there. We didn't get to see everybody in the proper position, but I think that's a position we'll always look to add and improve and we're going to add competition.

"I think that's the key, giving the guys that are there that seem solidified, there's going to be opportunity to create competition where they've got to go and elevate their game just like everybody else, and we'll put the best five out there."

As for the defensive line, Poles and coach Matt Eberflus have been open about wanting to bolster that unit this offseason. When asked about weighing the importance of an edge rusher versus the three-technique position, Poles said it "comes down to our evaluations on how much they affect the game in both the run and the pass."

For the three-technique position specifically, a key potential free agent was taken off the board Tuesday when the Commanders placed a franchise tag on tackle Daron Payne.

While one option has been removed from the mix, Poles said the Bears are still in a good position to attack the three-technique spot with the flexibility of adding players via free agency or the upcoming draft.

"We will see after these next few days and weeks who is available in free agency and where they fall in our value chart and board," Poles said. "Then if it's not there, then maybe that turns to the draft. That's the beautiful thing about balancing both of those things. That's why we spent so much time evaluating both sides to kind of see what's going to be available to us and where we need to attack in both of those areas in terms of free agency and the draft."