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What’s the big-picture evaluation of the Roquan Smith and Chase Claypool trades? Is this the biggest teardown in team history? – Boston Herald



After the Chicago Bears made three major deals in the week leading up to the NFL trade deadline, Brad Biggs’ weekly Bears mailbag was full.

Whirlwind couple days after a game in Dallas I am still trying to process. Better performance by Justin Fields. More success pounding the ball on the ground. And next to no defense whatsoever. How do you evaluate trading away Roquan Smith and turning around and adding Chase Claypool, and what does it mean in the big picture? I’m not really interested in the remainder of this season. — Todd S., Belvedere

Bears general manager Ryan Poles was asked if the Smith trade Monday and the Claypool acquisition Tuesday were linked, and he said they were not. If you look at them as one combined move — and I don’t see a problem with that for this purpose — the Bears traded a half-season of Smith for Claypool, linebacker A.J. Klein and a fifth-round draft pick while downgrading their second-round pick. The Bears also are paying about $4 million of Smith’s remaining salary in order for the Baltimore Ravens to fit it under the cap. Klein is an depth piece with experience but doesn’t figure into the big picture you are asking about.

So really we’re talking about Smith for Claypool, a fifth-round pick and a lower second-rounder. How much lower? I would estimate about 12 to 15 picks, depending on where the Bears and Ravens wind up in the standings.

Poles said when Smith and his camp rejected the Bears’ final offer in August, it became obvious the parties would be unable to find common ground. At that point, I don’t know how Poles could have made Smith part of his future plans, especially understanding the vast needs the team has on both sides of the ball.

This would be a much different story if the roster was pretty much set and the Bears were ready to be playoff contenders. Then you find a way to get your guy signed and go from there. The Bears need defensive linemen, edge rushers, offensive linemen, more wide receiver help — the list goes on. Of course, the list got longer once they shipped out Smith, but they must have high confidence that coach Matt Eberflus knows what he’s doing when it comes to developing young linebackers.

I don’t think Claypool projects as a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL, but I like what he adds. He has a great combination of size (6-foot-4, 238 pounds), length and speed and is physical. He can turn 50-50 balls into 70-30 propositions for Justin Fields and should help a passing game that before Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys was lost in the red zone.

As I wrote Tuesday afternoon before Poles talked, this had a ton to do with the crop of free-agent wide receivers for 2023 looking super thin. It will look even worse if the New England Patriots sign Jakobi Meyers and prevent him from reaching the open market. So if there isn’t a ton of help available in free agency and you don’t want to double up with high draft picks on wide receivers, it’s time to get creative and think trade.

I bet Poles wishes he could have sent the Ravens’ second-round pick that he acquired in the Smith trade to Pittsburgh to complete the deal, but the Steelers received interest in Claypool from multiple teams — the Green Bay Packers reportedly were involved — and the Bears had to up the ante to make it their own second-round pick.

With all of the coming and going, what draft picks do the Bears now own in the 2023 draft? — Wheels, Rolling Meadows

After trading their second-round pick to the Steelers for Chase Claypool, the Bears have eight draft picks for April 2023.

  • Round 1
  • Round 2 (from Baltimore)
  • Round 3
  • Round 4
  • Round 4 (from Philadelphia)
  • Round 5
  • Round 5 (from Baltimore via New England*)
  • Round 7

According to tankathon.com, the Bears, as one of seven 3-5 teams, would select 12th in Round 1 based on the current standings. The second-round pick they got from the Ravens probably will be in the back third of the round. Obviously plenty of deals can be made between now and the draft.

* The NFL transaction wire noted the fifth-round pick the Bears received from the Ravens originally belonged to the Patriots. It’s listed as “conditional,” and I believe the Bears will receive whichever fifth-round selection is higher — the one from the Patriots or the Ravens’ own fifth-rounder.

So there’s still some stuff to be ironed out, but that’s what the Bears have right now.

It seems we have reached a point where the trade value of draft picks to NFL teams has far exceeded the actual contributions of the players being selected with those picks. What exactly is going on here? Does this phenomenon trace back to the salary cap and the economics of having as many players as possible on your roster who are on rookie contracts? In a normal world, a player traded for a draft pick would bring a return of the approximate round where you could expect to get a player of similar quality to the player being dealt. I don’t think anyone would say that the Bears could reasonably expect to get a player in the second round of Roquan Smith’s quality, considering that Smith himself was drafted in the first round and lived up to his draft status. — Tom N., Dayton, Ohio

That’s an interesting question and I get your point. The first point I would make is that when the Bears drafted Smith in the first round, they got him for five seasons on a rookie contract that included four years plus a club option. The Ravens traded second- and fifth-round picks for Smith and control him for the next nine games. Yes, they could use the franchise tag to secure Smith for 2023, but most believe that will be reserved for quarterback Lamar Jackson. With Smith being a rental in this instance, the Bears never were going to get a first-round pick in return.

Maybe the Bears can’t get the next Smith in the second round, but teams can find pretty darn good off-the-ball linebackers between Rounds 2 and 4. I think they can get an athletic replacement with range. Then it’s about seeing how instinctual the player is.

With the trade of Roquan Smith, the Bears now have several draft choices and cap space. My concern is that to date, Ryan Poles has done nothing to indicate he will make good draft choices and free-agent acquisitions. The 2022 draft has been marginal so far with Jaquan Brisker the only rookie performing at a high level. The free agents have been marginal, even though it is clear they were signed simply to fill out a roster. Any reason to believe Poles will be successful building the Bears in free agency and the draft? — Jim A., Plymouth, Minn.

Brisker has been really good, and cornerback Kyler Gordon has been steadier the last two or three games. Remember, Gordon is being asked to do a ton playing outside in the base defense and at nickel in the sub package. That’s something teams won’t ask many veterans to try.

Left tackle Braxton Jones has shown a little improvement too. Is he a long-term solution at that position? I wouldn’t go there right now, but for a half-season, it’s fair to say he has been better than a lot of folks expected.

You’re right that Poles was basically filling out a roster with some of his moves in free agency. Understanding that, let’s see what happens when he does some bona fide shopping in free agency. I’d caution folks not to expect a wild spending spree, though, and I fear many are expecting that. Typically that’s a recipe for disaster. Poles needs to be aggressive yet calculated.

I wonder what effect Roquan Smith not having an agent had on this situation? Perhaps if he had an agent to take some of the emotion out of the negotiations, he’d still be a Bear? — Brian. C.

Fair question and we’ll never know. I know going back more than a year ago, the Bears were hopeful Smith would hire representation and he never did. That’s his decision and it made the entire process more challenging.

“It does make it (pause) just harder,” GM Ryan Poles said Tuesday when asked about Smith working without an agent.

Has there ever been a Bears total teardown and rebuild of the current magnitude? I’ve been a fan since Bill Wade was the quarterback and I can’t recall one. — Tony R.

That’s a hard question for me to answer because my working knowledge from covering the team goes back only to 2001. Wade was slinging it for the Bears before I was born. I’m inclined to say no, but I would point out that only in the last couple of years have we seen real player movement around the NFL trade deadline. For years you’d get only a handful of deals, most of them small in nature, in the week or so leading up to the deadline. A wave of younger, more aggressive GMs has changed that approach.

The Bears haven’t just traded off some of their best — and most expensive — players in Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith, they’ve churned the roster. If my count is accurate, only 19 players remain from the Ryan Pace era. That number could be below a dozen by this time next year. Add the trades to the constant roster movement and you get a widespread teardown.

The key to the immediate future, of course, rests on the performance of one remaining piece from the previous regime: quarterback Justin Fields. It sets up for a fascinating offseason.

How patient should fans be in 2023? If Ryan Poles’ plan was to work with salary-cap space and draft capital in ‘23, and we’ve seen teams like the Bengals win that way quickly, he should have a lot of pressure to execute, right? — @david_nordby

Are you forgetting how many years and decades the Bengals wandered through the NFL forest on a journey that led them, well, nowhere? Without having any idea what shape the roster will take next season, it’s difficult to make any grand predictions at this point, but I think a good deal of patience is required. I can’t speak for him, but I can’t imagine Poles looked at this job as a one-year turnaround. I think the Bears need multiple draft classes to get up and running at a high level, and they had only three picks in the top 167 back in April.

If Justin Fields takes a huge step forward over the remainder of this season, that would be a good reason to raise expectations a couple of notches for next season, but if you’re dreaming big for 2023 right now, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Think of it this way: How many core starters will the Bears have at the end of this season? They need to bring in a lot of new players and can reasonably make only so many moves in free agency and have only so many draft picks. I don’t think you want to see a massive spending splurge in free agency either. The “Dream Team” didn’t work out so well in Philadelphia in 2011.

The Bears might be able to get into playoff contention sooner than some believe, but there’s a difference in sneaking in as a sixth or seventh seed and being one of the top teams in the conference that can compete for a championship annually. Look at how stocked the rosters of the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles are right now. Heck, look at the San Francisco 49ers too. There’s talent across the board and depth. That takes time and a lot of work to build. So I believe patience will be required throughout the 2023 season.

When you look at a roster in teardown mode, how do you rank need? — @giesey12

Where do you want to start? We could rank various needs and the significance of each right now, but that tells you only so much. What Ryan Poles needs to do — and he knows this — is create a detailed plan at the end of the season based on what the Bears will have on the roster entering 2023 and what’s available via free agency and the draft. It will be one massive puzzle with a lot of different-shaped pieces that each come at a different price.

We could declare the offensive line is the No. 1 need — and you could make a case for a couple of positions — but if free agency doesn’t present a clear option, the Bears would have to pivot. They would need to explore the trade market, look ahead to the draft or consider prioritizing another position.

I’m not trying to get out of answering the question, but I am telling you the Bears will craft a twofold plan that looks to free agency and the draft and details the strengths, weaknesses and supply available at each position. Wide receiver — even after the acquisition of Chase Claypool — offensive line, defensive line, edge rusher, linebacker and cornerback all loom as needs right now. The Bears need difference makers and with needs across the board, they should have no problem adding impact players.

Will inside linebacker become a top draft or free-agency target? — @daniel11605

In comparison with other needs, no. In practical terms, yes. The Bears have to replace an excellent player in the middle of the defense and will lean heavily on their belief that coach Matt Eberflus can develop a young player.

The Indianapolis Colts drafted Shaquille Leonard in the second round in 2018 at No. 36 — 28 spots after Roquan Smith. He was a dynamic player from Day 1. The 49ers chose Fred Warner 70th that year, early in the third round, and you can make a case Leonard and Warner have been more impactful than Smith.

The Bears have more pressing needs, in my opinion, at defensive line, offensive line and wide receiver, and you can make a case for cornerback as well. Fortunately Poles is well-positioned with salary-cap room and draft capital.

We’ll have to see what free agency and the draft look like at inside linebacker, but in a perfect world, I believe the Bears would look to a college player to fill this void. A young, athletic player who can be developed on a rookie contract makes the most sense to me, especially when you consider positional value.

Do you believe what Ryan Poles is doing with these trades is good enough for the Bears long term? — @dgrant4121

That is to be determined when we see what he does in free agency and the draft to put the assets he has accumulated to use. It’s easy to sit back and rejoice in the bounty of eight draft picks, but those are blank faces without a position right now. We’ll still be seeking answers to a lot of these questions at this time next year.

As I said when Poles and coach Matt Eberflus were hired, this isn’t a quick-fix project, a weekend makeover. This is like construction on Interstate 294. Sometimes it has the appearance of a never-ending project. It will be fascinating to see where the Bears are two and three years from now. If Justin Fields is a legitimate franchise quarterback by then, things will be cheery at Halas Hall and there ought to be a slew of young, talented playmakers on the roster.

It’s difficult to say the Bears improved by casting off a talented 25-year-old player in Roquan Smith. Trading him is a completely different deal than dealing away an aging veteran in Robert Quinn. They need to replace Smith and add talent around the position on defense. How good will Chase Claypool be? I don’t know, but I like the idea of a big, athletic player joining the position room. If he can be a quality possession receiver with the ability to run go routes and win jump balls, the Bears should be happy.

Is Ryan Poles showing signs that he thinks he is the smartest guy in the NFL? None of his bottom-of-barrel free agents have panned out. His O-line is better with the backups. He is showing signs that he wants only his guys, irrespective of their talent. — @nanderto

Based on what? Trading Roquan Smith to the Ravens? Poles didn’t make any big signings in free agency, so the mistake is yours if you expected massive production from any of those players. Wide receiver Byron Pringle and offensive lineman Lucas Patrick have been injured. Defensive tackle Justin Jones has been OK for what he’s asked to do.

Poles is doing what most GMs do when they inherit an underperforming roster. They turn it over quickly. Poles traded Khalil Mack in March in the first step toward straightening out the salary cap by 2023. Mack is still a valuable player, but Poles recognized the Bears were not in position to compete this season.

The Bears wanted to keep Smith — at their price — and when that didn’t happen, it was time to plot the next move. Trading Smith now got them substantially more draft capital than playing the compensatory pick game. Remember, compensatory picks are handed out based on net gains and losses in free agency. So if the Bears are big players in free agency, they could have wound up with nothing for Smith if he signed elsewhere.

Poles is churning over the roster at a high rate, but Ryan Pace did the same thing in 2015. Maybe not quite as quickly but the process was similar.

In retrospect how good of a fit was Roquan Smith in Matt Eberflus’ defense? He had great stats and is a phenomenal athlete, but was he a better fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense? — @euclidzoo

Smith looked pretty good starting about Week 3 against the Houston Texans, when he had 16 tackles, and the slow start was probably a product of missing most of training camp and the preseason and maybe being a bit heavy at the start of the season. He’s not as instinctive at weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 scheme as Lance Briggs was, but Smith is a superior athlete and would be a really good player in any system.

Since most teams script their initial drives, I am wondering if the Bears D is too predictable in the first quarter. In all of their defeats the opposing team’s offense looked like it was facing their own scout team, executing their script to perfection. The stats are eye-opening. It’s as if they know exactly what the Bears are going to do on most any given play. It’s not just a matter of players getting beat one-on-one. There are huge gaps in the line and/or secondary and the ball magically finds its way there. Are they getting severely outcoached? — Chris R., Midlothian

I think you’re guilty of some recency bias here. The Cowboys got off to a terrific start Sunday at AT&T Stadium, driving 75 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown on their opening possession. They went on to score 28 points on their first four possessions. Before that, the Bears had surrendered points on the opponent’s initial possession only twice this season.

The Packers got a 40-yard field goal from Mason Crosby in Week 2 game at Lambeau Field. The Minnesota Vikings drove 86 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown in Week 5 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Bears forced a fumble by the 49ers in the opener at Soldier Field, and the opponent went three-and-punt in the other four games.

So I would say the defense has been OK at the start. The Bears have been better defensively in the second half overall, but it’s not like they’re consistently falling in holes after the opponent’s first series.

I think Cody Whitehair is eligible to return as early as this week. Any word or indication on whether he will need to miss additional time? — @ajlight315

As I detailed in 10 thoughts after the game at Dallas on Sunday, Whitehair worked out on the field pregame with a brace on his right knee to protect his sprained MCL. He looked pretty fluid to me, and that’s an indication he could be set to return this week.

Today is the key day if he’s going to play against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Soldier Field. If the Bears designate him to return from IR today, it’s a sign he could be back in the starting lineup at left guard Sunday. If the Bears don’t test Whitehair in practice today, it’s clear he’s at least another week away.

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