General manager Ryan Poles spoke with Jeff Joniak Sunday on the Bears pregame radio show on WBBM Newsradio 780 AM and 105.9 FM. The following is a transcript of Poles' comments:
We have our three categories for guys playing – that's the medical, that's coach and I and that's the player. We take that very, very seriously and this is one where the medical wasn't cleared. And we want to do the best thing and what's in the best interest of Justin and his health and safety. So that really is at the root of this decision.
And the bummer is, so close to that record for rushing in a single season, which I'm assuming while it's great, you don't want that every year because this balance, what's to come down the road for Justin and this offense is critical.
Yeah it's an unbelievable statistic that he's put together and it shows you what kind of impact he has on the game and his athletic ability. That's part of the bummer to finish like this is to be so close to a historical record, that's something we all take seriously. But really just leaning on the medical piece, that's what is at the forefront of the decision there.
You may not be hearing this from the outside but assuming you understand the sport enough to know the draft order is very important to the masses and what you do with whatever pick you get. There's gonna be a lot of discussion even about quarterbacks because of what teams might offer to move up to get one. How do you frame everything for what's ahead?
I'm a firm believer that you play this game to win each and every week and you compete. So that's not really on our radar whatsoever. It's just part of our DNA – coach's DNA, my DNA – to compete every single week. It's not going to come down to any type of draft selection. I haven't really paid much attention to that at all.
Is it as important to quiet the noise in the offseason as it is in season, especially because you're going to have a high draft pick?
Yeah I think once we get further and further away from football, a lot of the attention goes into the offseason and player acquisition. Here with the Bears, we do a really good job just focusing on player character in terms of their football character. We look at their makeup as well as the tape. We lean heavily on tape. We have market research on everything that we do to make sure we have the values pegged and that's really where our focus is. So the more you focus on the noise, the further that drags you from that. So we're going to stay true to our process.
Has it been challenging at all to keep one eye on this team while you're also keeping another eye on free agency, the draft and just everything that happens at the end of a season?
Yeah, I think the big thing in this role is you gotta compartmentalize. You gotta take care of the season but the ball's rolling when it comes to free agency and the draft really through the fall, so you're gathering that information as well. So, it's not really a balanced deal, it's compartmentalizing two different things that are going on.
You're always going to be open for business because that is the business of building a football team.
Yeah I think it's a situation, regardless of what happens, you always want to have your ears open and listening to different situations. We did that last year and I thought it paid off for us so we'll continue to do the same this year.
What is your final analysis now of Fields irrespective of the rest of the unit here for 2022?
Yeah I'm proud of the kid and how he hung in there. The transition's tough, learning a new offense, getting to know a new staff, there's a lot thrown at him. There's adjustments made on the fly, and he handled it perfectly. Is there room to grow? Absolutely. But I think what we saw this year was our coaching staff's ability to put players in a position to succeed and be competitive as well as a player that was starting to gain confidence in his ability and the game was starting to slow down. So I'm really looking forward to him taking the next step next year.
The leadership component is huge. His conversation with Chase Claypool, another example that is being applauded by the coaching staff and everybody else. So, Chase's sideline reaction. He explained why he was hot this week and it seems, at least from my perspective, it was coming from a place of wanting to win at all costs and not accept losing. How do you feel about it?
No, I'm with you. Listen, I scouted Chase in college, and I followed him through his career and one of the things that always stands out is how competitive he is and how passionate he is about the game. So Bears fans and everyone around watching that needs to know that it comes from a good place. As we mature, we know that sometimes the words that we use need to be adjusted and altered, but his reaction and what was really at the root of that was a guy that really wants to win, he wants this team to have fire and fight to the end. And I absolutely love it.
Did you find new core players this year and maybe some that you didn't anticipate?
Yeah through the process, players really rose to the occasion. One of the players I'm really proud of is Josh Blackwell. Here's a guy that came into a new situation suddenly on cut down day. His role was special teams; he excelled there. Then as he got time toward the end of the season, he started to find confidence as a defensive back and a corner. So I thought that was a really cool story. Jack Sanborn another one that you just – this is why I love what I do. You see a player who comes in and is an undrafted free agent. He battles, he works, doesn't say much and when his number is called, he takes his opportunity and runs with it and does some really good things. Braxton Jones is another one. It's a guy that came in, I wasn't really sure where the ceiling was. I knew he had tools and every single day he got better and in the season there's ebbs and flows and he rode through those storms and came out, I thought, on the good end of things. So I'm looking forward to these guys coming back and getting even better.
Equanimeous St. Brown returns on a one-year. How did that come about and what does that signify?
That signifies a guy that showed up here and was dependable. He worked hard and when his number was called, I thought he came through for the most part. I'm excited to get him back. I think even having some continuity with Justin is a good deal. So obviously every year's a new year. He'll have to come out and compete like everyone else, but I was excited to see him come back for 2023.
How important will the line of scrimmage be on both sides of the ball?
Yeah it's the foundation. I think any good team, that's the foundation. You gotta start up front, so our eyes will be there. Obviously as I've said in the past, we're always gonna look at value and make sure we're doing things that are sound. But up front, that's a place that we're gonna keep our eyes on and continue to grow and develop our guys but also bring in new players that can help us.
Nobody likes the losing. How have you handled it? What do you say to fans as we wrap this up? What's your view of the future?
The view of the future is bright. We were able to lay a foundation and I understand from a lot of perspectives, at the end of the day, it's wins and losses and we feel that way. I hurt after losses, coach hurts after losses, everyone does. But I think coming away from this year, there's a lot of positives. I think we grew as a team, our culture is right, our locker room is right and we're ready to go vertical next year and build off the foundation that we set this year. So I understand this fanbase has gone through a lot but I think we're doing things the right way and that's what we're leaning on and I'm excited for the future.