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Ryan Poles shares thoughts on Smith, Claypool trades

Bears general manager Ryan Poles
Bears general manager Ryan Poles

Bears general manager Ryan Poles conducted an impromptu press conference Tuesday after making two significant deals hours before the NFL's 3 p.m. (CT) trade deadline.

First, the Bears sent linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens in exchange for 2023 second- and fifth-round draft picks in addition to veteran linebacker A.J. Klein.

They followed by acquiring third-year receiver Chase Claypool from the Steelers in exchange for their own 2023 second-round choice.

Selected by the Steelers in the second round of the 2020 draft out of Notre Dame, Claypool has caught 153 passes for 2,044 yards and 12 touchdowns in 39 games with 27 starts over three seasons. 

"I am excited about this player," Poles said. "I've really liked the way that our offense is starting to come together and move. I thought it was important to add another impact player for our offense to go along with the guys that we currently have in the receivers room right now."

“You can never have enough weapons and guys that help your quarterback gain confidence.” Bears GM Ryan Poles on the acquisition of WR Chase Claypool

The 6-4, 238-pound Claypool will provide quarterback Justin Fields with an inviting target who possesses size, strength and athleticism.

"I like the way Justin is trending," Poles said. "And I think adding another big body who's physical, explosive, great leaping ability, can stretch the field but also is violent with the ball in his hands, as well as a blocker, enhances everyone around him."

Take a look at new Bears receiver Chase Claypool in action. In 39 career games, all with the Steelers, the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder has caught 153 passes for 2,044 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In the Bears' last two games, Fields has completed 30 of 43 passes for 330 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a 105.8 passer rating, and rushed for 142 yards and two TDs on 22 carries. 

Fields is a major reason the offense scored seven touchdowns in its last two outings after mustering nine TDs in its first six games.

"You can never have enough weapons and guys that help your quarterback gain confidence," Poles said. "I know a lot of the guys are starting to make plays for us. Adding another receiver is going to allow him to continue to grow and gain that confidence." 

Poles acknowledged that he was motivated to trade for Claypool in part due to what's expected to be a thin crop of free agent receivers in 2023. 

"That's part of my job and part of my crew upstairs is you have to do a little bit of forecasting and looking down the road," Poles said. "I just didn't feel completely comfortable with that. Not to say there's not good players there. I just didn't feel comfortable with not maybe being a little bit more aggressive at this point."

Poles opened his press conference by thanking Smith for "everything he did here."

"I know he impacted the franchise, the field, as well as the locker room, which again, repeating a lot of the things I said the other day, these moves are difficult because it's not just a move on paper," Poles said.

"It affects people, especially the locker room. That's why it was important for coach [Matt Eberflus] and I to spend time with both Roquan as well as many of the leaders on the team to give them our perspective and a little bit of the why behind it, so that they have some understanding. That was important to both of us."

Smith is in the fifth and final year of the contract he signed after being selected by the Bears with the eighth overall choice in the first round of the 2018 draft out of Georgia.

With no agent, Smith represented himself during offseason negotiations with the Bears on a long-term extension, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

Smith participated in the entire offseason program and reported to training camp. But he sat out the first three weeks of practice—and requested a trade Aug. 9—before ending his "hold in" Aug. 20. Upon returning to practice, he told reporters that negotiations were over and that he was going to bet on himself and shift his focus to the season.

"There's a part of me that's bummed because this was a guy that I thought was going to be here for a long time," Poles said. "I felt like we put a lot of effort forward to get that done and we came up short. We couldn't find common ground. And that's just part of the business, which I think we all understand."

Poles revealed that the Bears gave Smith a final offer before the start of the season. Convinced that agreeing to a long-term extension was unlikely, Poles felt it was in the team's best interest to acquire assets for Smith instead of letting him walk after the season and getting nothing in return.

"The reality of it is that you have to ask yourself a question: 'Are we ever going to find that middle ground?' And from our previous conversations, you gather that information and it felt like it was highly unlikely," Poles said.

"So then are you able to then take the opportunity to enhance your roster now? Or are you OK that he walks away and we can't use some of that to enhance our roster? That's what it came down to and I felt like we had to move forward at that time."

Losing Smith—the NFL's leading tackler and a two-time second-team All-Pro—is obviously a blow to the defense. But Poles' expectations for the unit remain the same.

"I don't think that's ever OK to take a step back," he said. "You're going to have to rely on players to step up and other leaders on the team to make more plays."

The addition of Klein should help. He arrives having appeared in 136 NFL games with 81 starts over 10 NFL seasons with the Panthers (2013-16), Saints (2017-19), Bills (2020-21) and Ravens (2022). The Iowa State product has registered 454 tackles, 44 tackles-for-loss, 15.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a TD.

"Having A.J. Klein brings a veteran presence to the linebacker room that can help us moving forward," Poles said. "He'll be important to us."

Following their two trades Tuesday, the Bears have the following eight picks in the 2023 draft:

Round 1
Round 2 (from Ravens)
Round 3
Round 4
Round 4 (from Eagles)
Round 5
Round 5 (from Ravens)
Round 7

The Bears traded their 2023 sixth-round pick to the Dolphins last October in exchange for receiver/return specialist Jakeem Grant. They obtained a 2023 sixth-round selection from the Chargers in March as part of a package for outside linebacker Khalil Mack, but they sent that choice to the Chargers in exchange for back-to-back picks in the seventh round of this year's draft that they spent on safety Elijah Hicks at No. 254 and punter Trenton Gill at No. 255.