Kmet continuing to reward Bears following contract extension
Story by Gabby Hajduk
Cole Kmet caught the attention of Ryan Poles long before either of them represented the Chicago Bears.
When Kmet was at Notre Dame and Poles was serving as the Chiefs' Assistant Director of Player Personnel, the tight end garnered the attention of NFL scouts with his 6-6, 260-pound frame and physical style that led to 515 receiving yards and six touchdowns with the Fighting Irish in 2019. But what really drew Poles to Kmet during the 2020 NFL Draft process was the untapped potential he saw in the Chicago area native, who never had more than a year to focus solely on football.
"When we scouted him at Notre Dame, he was a part-time baseball player as well," Poles told ChicagoBears.com. "And that's why I felt like there was even more upside than what you saw on the college tape, because he was splitting his time, especially early in his career. So I knew if he spent all of his time in football, it could be something really good. And that's been proven true."
For two seasons, Poles watched from afar as Kmet was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2020 draft and emerged as a valuable part of the offense. But just 21 months later, Poles joined Kmet in Chicago when he was hired as the team's new general manager in January 2022.
"There's a weird misconception and I hear it all the time about if a player was drafted by another GM. I've never looked — I don't think many guys do — but I've never looked at it like that. Once you come here, you're a part of this group. The cool thing is, I scouted Cole when I was in Kansas City, just like we did Jaylon Johnson. All these guys we scouted, I was fighting for those guys to be drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs.
"So I've been a huge Cole fan for a long time. And when you fight for a player as a scout, you're talking about what he's going to become and his potential. So to have the ability to be in the building and see one of my favorite players that I scouted do that is a pretty cool thing."
While in Kansas City, Poles saw Kmet adapt to the game in his first NFL season then gain confidence in his sophomore season. With a front row seat to Kmet's third year in the league, Poles witnessed the tight end "become a pro," which meant "understanding the details of the game, how to get open, how to block, how to take care of his body, all those little things."
In evaluating Kmet's three years in the league, which were marked by consistent improvement, increased production and emerging leadership skills, Poles realized he discovered the blueprint for the type of player he wants to build around.
Poles wanted to be intentional about his first multi-year extension. As someone sitting in that seat for the first time as a general manager, Poles recognized the natural fear of extending a player who then produces less than expected. But with Kmet, Poles felt "confident we would get the same guy that he was on his rookie contract."
Signing Kmet to a four-year extension in July was first and foremost an opportunity to reward a player that embodied what it means to be a Chicago Bear and represent the NFL's charter franchise. But it was also an opportunity for Poles to set a tone in the locker room.
"I wanted that also to be a really good lesson for the rest of the team," Poles said. "Because I believe when you pay a player and do an extension, you are showing the rest of the team the blueprint to get a second contract or a third contract. I know for a fact that our entire roster can look at Cole and be like, 'okay, if I do what Cole does, then everything will take care of itself.' And that's what I wanted. And that's why we started with him."
"Whoever Cole goes up against, it’s gonna be a tough matchup." Bears safety Eddie Jackson