Khalil Mack, Akeim Hicks, Robert Quinn and now Roquan Smith: all gone from Chicago. The Bears in 2022 have gotten rid of their four best defensive players.
GM Ryan Poles is rebuilding. He’s blowing it up and starting fresh. He’s bringing in his own guys. He’s freeing up cap space and stock piling draft picks.
It’s a total rebuild, baby. The future is bright in Chicago!
Except, no it’s not.
Because Ryan Poles is falling into the same trap that every poverty franchise GM falls for: the rebuild fantasy. The unattainable ideal of the Total Rebuild.
It sounds good in theory: sell off all your best assets, focus on acquiring draft capital and cap space, and accept the fact that you’re going to suck for a few years, but then you’ll be really good after that.
The idea of the total rebuild I think was popularized by the 76ers under Sam Hinckie—the “Trust the Process” guy who tanked for like 4 seasons as part of his big plan to get a bunch of really high draft picks. The Sixers eventually got four very high draft picks: Joel Embiid in 2014 (#3 overall), Jahlil Okafor in 2015 (#3 overall), Ben Simmons in 2016 (#1 overall), and Markelle Fultz in 2017 (also #1 overall). Those four picks were the payoff for “the process.”
Only Embiid is still on the team today. Jahlil Okafor and Fultz were complete busts and didn’t help the team at all.
The 76ers started winning games in 2018 and have been a good team since then, but they have not made it to the Conference Finals once.
Philadelphia 76ers fans have been “trusting the process” for nearly a decade now and the result has been five straight early exits in the playoffs–four times in the second round, once in the first round.
“The Process” has not resulted in a Championship, or even gotten the 76ers close to a Championship.
So the major example of tanking to win later in the NBA hasn’t been a success. But what about other sports?
Baseball teams have been pursuing this kind of strategy for decades now—trade away all your good players now in exchange for prospects that will be good in a few years.
The Cubs executed this strategy to perfection a few years ago. When Theo Epstein took over the Cubs in 2010, they went into like a 4 year tanking process where they built up their farm system, and then by 2015, they called up their young prospects—Kris Bryant, Rizzo, Addison Russell, Schwarber, etc. They signed some big names in free agency (Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist) and pretty much built their entire pitching staff through free agency (Jon Lester, Aroldis Chapman, John Lackey, etc).
So through a combination of home grown position player talent and smart free agency signings, mainly pitchers, the Cubs were able to go from the worst team in the league to breaking the 108-year curse and winning the World Series, all within a span of about 5-6 years.
It’s a time-honored tradition in baseball. It’s a strategy that works. The Royals did it and won a World Series in 2015. The Astros were horrible for like 5+ years before winning the World Series in 2017, and they’ve been one of the best teams in the league since (even with the cheating scandal).
And it works in baseball because fans and media know it has a history of working, so when they see their team pursuing this strategy, they know they need to be patient. They know there’s a multi-year plan in place that will pay off down the road. Plus, having a farm system in baseball makes it a lot easier to do. It’s much easier to develop talent at a slow pace, with no pressure, and at minimal cost.
But here’s the issue: other sports have tried to basically replicate the strategy, even though it’s not suited to any sport but baseball.
The MLB is the only major American pro sports league that doesn’t have a salary cap. And so teams have a much different approach to building their rosters.
In leagues like the NFL, where there is a salary cap, you are under some serious constraints as far as your timeline for executing a rebuild. You don’t have the luxury of waiting a few years for talent to develop. If you draft a player and he turns out to be good, you’re going to have to pay him a lot of money in a few years. And then once you pay him, everything changes. You are going to have to make some big roster cuts, and let some valuable players go. Because you’re limited by the salary cap.
You can’t pay everybody. So you have to pick and choose which players you’re going to pay. The conventional wisdom in today’s NFL is that there are positions you should pay a premium for, and positions you should not. The “most important” positions are considered to be QB, offensive tackle, defensive end/edge rusher, cornerback and wide receiver.
The other positions—running back, guard, center, tight end, middle linebacker, safety—are considered non-priority positions today. You’re not supposed to pay big money for them because they’re not as important.
Defensive tackle or interior defensive lineman is a position that could go either way. If you have an Aaron Donald, obviously you back up the Brinks truck. But if not, then it isn’t imperative to pay top dollar for an interior defensive lineman. Because it’s a passing league, and you’d rather have guys that can rush the passer, goes the thinking.
It’s nice in the NFL to have a great young player on a rookie deal. Especially a quarterback. Why do you think the Chargers have such a stacked roster right now? Because they hit the lottery with Justin Herbert. They have a top-flight quarterback on a rookie deal. They can afford to spend money on other positions because they have a dirt cheap QB.
That’s the window of opportunity for teams in today’s NFL: you make your run at a Super Bowl when your QB is on his rookie deal, and you can afford to spend top dollar on the rest of the roster. Once you find a great young QB in the draft, it’s go time.
Normally, if you find “the guy,” a young QB with incredible talent and upside who you can win now with, you begin the process of maxing out the credit card: signing big name free agents, trading away draft picks for “win now” type players, and generally pushing all your chips to the middle of the table. You’re all in. You have a QB on a cheap contract and a Super Bowl roster. It’s time to go for it.
The Eagles did this in 2017 when they had Wentz on his rookie deal. The Chiefs did this in 2019 with Mahomes on his rookie deal.
The Steelers did it twice back in the mid/late 2000s when Big Ben was young and they had that monster defense.
There are two time-honored ways to win a Super Bowl:
- The “baseball/Trust The Process” strategy: what we talked about earlier. Jettison all valuable players in exchange for draft picks and cap space, use the draft picks to acquire home-grown talent, including a franchise quarterback, and eventually all those young players will blossom into the core of a Super Bowl team. Use cap space to fill in the gaps via free agency.
- The Buccaneers/Rams Strategy: build up an elite roster, wait for a great quarterback to become available, and then go all-in to acquire him. Actually, the Chiefs also executed this strategy, even though the conventional thinking is that they pursued the “baseball/Process” strategy.
Of these two strategies, which is best? Which has a higher rate of success?
In my view, it’s the Bucs/Rams strategy, and it’s not even close.
The Importance of Having Good Players
Seems obvious, right? You need to have good players in order to win. We all know this. It’s self-evident. If goes without saying. It’s like saying we need air to breathe.
But you’d be surprised at how many NFL teams are willing to part with good players, and seem to have no understanding of the value of a good player.
There are a lot of teams in the NFL that appear to be under the impression that talent isn’t that difficult to acquire, that there is an abundance rather than a scarcity of talent.
Maybe they don’t explicitly say or think this, but they certainly behave like it is.
Why else would we be seeing so many teams trading current good and great players for draft picks?
That’s exactly what the Bears did when they traded Roquan Smith for a second round draft pick.
They would rather take their chances on a second round pick than keeping and re-signing a 2x All Pro linebacker.
By the way, do you know what percentage of second round draft picks become Pro Bowlers (not even All Pro players, just Pro Bowlers)? It’s like 1 out of 5 at best.
That link goes to a Reddit post where somebody looked at every draft from 2000-2017 and just counted up the number of Pro Bowlers in each round, and then divided the rounds into roughly thirds (so 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, etc.). This is the table he came up with for the first 100 picks:
Players drafted in the top-10 of the draft only have a 55% Pro Bowl rate.
So the Bears decided that they would rather not have Roquan Smith. They’d rather let the Ravens have him for a second round pick. The Bears believe they are going to be able to find a player who will eventually be as valuable if not more valuable than Roquan Smith with either that second round pick they acquired, or the $20 million in cap space they will free up by not having to re-sign him to a big contract in the offseason.
The odds are not in their favor at all on that.
The Ravens’ pick is likely to be somewhere in the bottom-third of the second round, which means the Bears are looking at a 16-18% chance of that pick turning into a Pro Bowler.
Now Ryan Poles looks pretty dumb for making that trade, huh?
Okay, but you might say, what about free agency? Instead of paying Roquan Smith–remember, he doesn’t play an “important” position!–they can use that money to pay an edge rusher, or a wide receiver, or an offensive tackle in free agency!
Well, let’s take a look at those 2023 free agents and see what’s available.
Let’s start with the position that I believe is the biggest need for the Bears: wide receiver. The Bears absolutely need to get Justin Fields an elite wide receiver. Elite pass-catchers take young quarterback talents to the next level. We saw it when Josh Allen got Stefon Diggs, we saw it when Tua got Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and we saw it when Jalen Hurts got AJ Brown.
If the Bears want to give Justin Fields the best chance to develop, they need to get him an elite wide receiver to throw to. So who can the Bears sign for Fields with all that wonderful cap space?
Wow, slim pickings. And it’s just as bad for offensive tackles and edge rushers. Jakobi Meyers is probably the best option there at wide receiver. Maybe Juju, but I doubt he’d want to leave Kansas City. You could go for Julio Jones, but he’s 34 and can’t stay healthy. No way the Bears look his way.
So, best case scenario, the Bears overpay for Jakobi Meyers, who is a #2 caliber wide receiver.
Why are there no great receivers available? Because everyone understands how valuable they are. They’re not allowed to hit the open market. The best receivers are all locked up under contract. And the ones that might hit free agency are traded and then signed, because teams don’t want to let them walk for nothing.
How did the Eagles get AJ Brown? Trade.
How did the Bills get Stefon Diggs? Trade.
How did the Dolphins get Tyreek Hill? Trade.
How did the Raiders get Davante Adams? Trade.
All the best receivers in the league are either with the team that drafted them, or with a team that traded for them.
Let’s look at some more:
- Cooper Kupp: drafted by the Rams
- Justin Jefferson: drafted by the Vikings
- Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd: all drafted by the Bengals
- Jaylen Waddle: drafted by the Dolphins
- Mike Evans and Chris Godwin: both drafted by the Bucs
- CeeDee Lamb: drafted by the Cowboys
- Amari Cooper: yes, he’s on his third team, but he has never once hit the open market. He was traded by the Raiders to the Cowboys, then later traded by the Cowboys to the Browns because the Cowboys couldn’t afford to pay him and would not just let him walk in free agency.
- Deebo Samuel: drafted by the 49ers
- DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett: both drafted by the Seahawks
- Michael Pittman: drafted by the Colts
- Mike Williams and Keenan Allen: both drafted by the Chargers
- Chris Olave and Michael Thomas: drafted by the Saints
- DJ Moore: drafted by the Panthers, will be traded before ever hitting the open market
- DeAndre Hopkins and Hollywood Brown: both acquired by the Cardinals via trade.
The only exceptions to the rule I could find were Christian Kirk, who was signed by the Jaguars in free agency (and most people think the Jaguars massively overpaid for him, but I’m sure that was just the market price because receivers are so valuable), and Curtis Samuel, who signed as a free agent with Washington.
Those guys are both good, but they’re not elite. Washington’s best receiver, Terry McLaurin, was drafted.
So this idea that you’re going to find a great receiver on the free agent market: it ain’t happening. No chance.
Are you starting to understand why I keep saying it’s crucially important to RETAIN talent, not trade it away?
The same rules here with wide receivers apply to offensive tackles and edge rushers: the best ones never hit the open market. They just don’t. You have to either draft them or pay huge sums of draft picks to trade for them. Free agency is not the answer here.
Okay, you may counter once again and say the Roquan isn’t nearly as valuable because he doesn’t play a Priority Position.
And I get that.
But talent is talent.
It’s not like he has no value, right?
There are 11 positions on offense, and all of them are important. If they weren’t important, then the position would be eliminated.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I personally love fullbacks and think they’re extremely underrated, but why do you think the league has mostly gotten rid of the fullback outside of on the one yard line? Because the league doesn’t think the fullback position is all that necessary. Most teams would rather have another wide receiver out there, or another tight end.
If inside linebacker wasn’t important, teams would eliminate the position. But they haven’t.
Maybe Roquan Smith doesn’t play a “Priority Position,” but he’s still a great football player that makes your team better.
Are the Bears better or worse without him? Obviously worse.
It doesn’t have to be that complicated. You want as many good players as possible, even if they’re at all the “wrong” positions.
A great coach will find a way to maximize his team’s strengths and minimize his team’s weaknesses. If you’re weak at quarterback or wide receiver, run the ball as much as you can.
Teams with a lot of good players tend to win a lot of games. It’s not that difficult.
Getting rid of a great player at a position you don’t really care about because you want to a great player at a position you care a lot more about–it doesn’t work that way in practice.
You have to make do with what you have, you have to play the hand you’re dealt.
Teams today are just way too quick to get rid of talent because they think they’ll be able to replace it easily.
And here’s another important point: the league changes so quickly.
Middle linebackers are “out of style” now because the Rams and the Bengals, the two teams that made the Super Bowl last season, were unremarkable at linebacker. And so are the Chiefs.
But the 49ers aren’t. They have Fred Warner.
The Bucs, who won the Super Bowl just two years ago, are strong at linebacker with Lavonte David and Devin White. I thought Devin White was their best player on the field when they beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, and he should’ve been Super Bowl MVP. The Bucs had an all around great defense at every level, but they were extremely strong at LB.
The Patriots built a dynasty with strong middle linebackers. They had Teddy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel during their first dynasty run. Then they had guys like Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich, and eventually they got Donta Hightower, who was their anchor middle linebacker for their second dynasty run.
Bill Belichick always prioritizes inside linebacker.
But my overall point is far simpler: acquire and retain talent. Things have a way of working themselves out when you have as much talent as possible.
Great players at any position make their teammates jobs easier, too.
Stop trying to copycat other teams and just make do with what you have. Maximize your current talent.
It’s crazy how many teams would rather roll the dice on a draft pick or a free agent signing than roll with the good players they already have on the roster.
Rebuilds Don’t Work
Here’s the worst part of it: the idea that a total and complete rebuild is the path to Super Bowl greatness is a myth.
It’s a myth. It doesn’t work.
The only way it does work is if you are lucky enough to find a generational quarterback talent in the draft.
And Bears fans should all know that’s no guarantee even if you have a high draft pick. Ahem, Mitch Trubisky.
People are going to point to the Bengals as an example of a team that rebuilt from the ground up and went from the bottom of the AFC to the Super Bowl.
It’s fair to bring them up. For sure. They got Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in 2020, then got Ja’Marr Chase with a top-5 pick in 2021, and all the sudden, they were in the Super Bowl.
The Bengals were really bad from 2016-2020, but in 2021, all those high draft picks they got from sucking eventually blossomed into a Super Bowl roster.
Well, let’s actually take a look.
Again, the Bengals were terrible for 5 straight years, from 2016-2020.
But let’s look at who they actually drafted with all those high draft picks:
- 2017: Bengals had the 9th pick in the 2017 draft after going 6-9-1 in 2016. Who did they take? John Ross, wide receiver out of Washington. Dude isn’t even in the league anymore, wasn’t on the Bengals last season, and had a grand total of 51 career receptions for the Bengals over four seasons.
- But you know who the Bengals got in the second round? Joe Mixon. In other words, the Bengals could’ve drafted Joe Mixon no matter where they were picking in the first round. If they had the 31st pick of the 2017 draft, they could’ve gotten Joe Mixon.
- 2018: Bengals had the 21st pick. They chose center Billy Price out of Ohio State. He’s not even on the team anymore. He wasn’t on the team last season for the Super Bowl run, either. The Bengals’ best picks in 2018 were safety Jessie Bates, who they took in the second round, and defensive end Sam Hubbard, who they took in the third round.
- 2019: Spent the 11th pick on offensive guard Jonah Williams. He’s still on the team, and he’s a starter-caliber player, but he’s not a Pro Bowler or anything. And the Bengals are routinely criticized for their terrible offensive line play, still.
- 2020: They took Joe Burrow #1 overall. Obviously a slam dunk, but drafting a franchise QB early in the draft is more luck than anything. What if they had gotten the #1 overall pick in 2018, and drafted either Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold #1 overall? They would not be anywhere close to as good as they are today. The point I’m making here is there’s a lot of luck and random chance involved in getting a franchise quarterback in the draft. Sometimes, there’s a special quarterback available; other years, there isn’t. This year’s draft, defensive linemen were the top two picks.
- Bengals took Tee Higgins with the first pick of the second round in 2020. Obviously another great pick. But any team in the league could’ve had him. He should’ve gone in the first round, obviously. You had guys like Henry Ruggs and Jalen Reagor get drafted ahead of him that year. The Bengals were just lucky that Higgins fell to the second round.
- 2021: They took Ja’Marr Chase #5 overall. That was a great pick, he’s obviously a superstar. They got him because they were terrible in 2020, Joe Burrow tore his ACL in the middle of the season, and they again finished with a bottom-5 record. You have to be really bad to get a player like Ja’Marr Chase. I don’t think the Bengals planned on being that bad in 2020 to be in a position to get Chase. But it worked out that they were.
Some other key players for the Bengals: Tyler Boyd, drafted 55th overall in 2016. Bengals went 12-4 in 2015. Wow, looks like you don’t have to tank to find good players in the draft. Imagine that.
Trey Hendrickson: signed as a free agent prior to the 2021 season. DJ Reader: signed as a free agent prior to the 2020 season.
Vonn Bell: signed as a free agent prior to 2020 season. Chidobe Awuzie was a free agent signing prior to 2021.
So the Bengals basically whiffed on multiple first round picks, lucked out in getting Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, signed some good defensive players in free agency from 2020 to 2021, and that’s how they built their Super Bowl roster.
They hit on some second and third round picks, but again, that’s not an argument in favor of tanking, if anything it’s an argument against it since any team could’ve drafted those players.
My overall point here, though, is that if you think you’re going to be able to consistently nail the draft, you are kidding yourself. It’s like not having a 401k and your retirement plan is to hit the lottery–you are a moron for doing that.
I am not saying the draft is unimportant. Just the opposite: the draft is extremely important, in fact it’s the single most important day of the year for every NFL team. It’s way more important than free agency.
But it’s also a crapshoot in that you can’t just assume you’re going to nail every pick of the draft, and that makes it okay to part with talented players.
No, that’s not how it works. Good players are precious commodities and you should cling to them for dear life.
Please name me ONE team that has won a Super Bowl since 2000 that got there by first blowing up the roster and then rebuilding from square one. Just one example.
You can’t find one because there are no examples.
The most consistent way to win Super Bowls is to build up a good roster, and then address all your major needs as they arise.
Look at the Chiefs, for example. They were good-not-great for several years prior to the arrival of Patrick Mahomes. Andy Reid got there in 2013, took over a terrible team, and they immediately traded for Alex Smith and made the playoffs:
The Chiefs were good from 2013-2016. They made the playoffs but lost consistently.
Then, in 2017, during the draft, they identified their guy: Patrick Mahomes. They traded all the way up to draft him at #10 overall, sat him for a year behind Alex Smith to learn the ropes, and then put him in for the 2018 season.
The Chiefs went from being a good team to a great team because they had found the quarterback. They found The Guy.
But more importantly, they were ready for him. They had a playoff-caliber roster for him already. They had Tyreek Hill already. They had Kareem Hunt (for a little while). They had Travis Kelce already.
They were a Dee Ford offsides away from making it to the Super Bowl in Mahomes’ first year as a starter, because they were already a strong roster prior to acquiring Mahomes.
They started with a small amount of talent, they kept adding to it. They prioritized winning as many games as they could even though they knew deep down that Alex Smith was limited and they probably couldn’t win a Championship with him. They were just waiting until they found their quarterback.
And once they found him, they had a great roster to plug him right into. Mahomes was set up for success immediately in Kansas City. He was safe behind their already good offensive line. He had great weapons to throw to already.
It was plug and play.
They didn’t throw him to the wolves behind a terrible offensive line, or make him throw to no-name wide receivers.
That’s what poverty franchises like the Bears, Lions, Jets, Giants and Browns do.
And that’s why they’re always terrible, and their rookie quarterbacks never pan out. They don’t give them a chance at all. They’re just like, “We drafted you, our roster is shit, save us.”
They expect these 22 year old rookie QBs to get out there with no offensive lines and no weapons and turn into Tom Brady.
And Tom Brady wasn’t even Tom Brady when he first became a starter in the NFL.
The Patriots were good because they had an elite defense that year. Tom Brady averaged 6.9 yards per attempt in the 2001 season.
The Patriots defense in the 2001 playoffs allowed 13, 17 and 17 points in their three games. That’s why they won the Super Bowl. Because nobody could score on them.
I know we like to believe a quarterback fixes everything, but it’s just not the case.
There have only been three quarterbacks that I can think of that singlehandedly turned around poverty franchises: Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Joe Burrow.
And with Peyton Manning, it took a long time for him to actually lead the Colts to the promised land. They were a flawed roster that would routinely lose to the Patriots and other stronger teams in the playoffs before finally breaking through in 2006. It took the Colts a long time to get that team up to a level where they could win the Super Bowl–they drafted Peyton in 1998.
With Andrew Luck, it was like, yeah, the Colts sucked the year before they got him, but they were great for a decade prior to that. They still had some of the pieces from the Peyton Manning era in place when Andrew Luck got there in 2012. So I don’t even know if Andrew Luck counts to be quite honest.
Joe Burrow is really the only one that did it instantly. Obviously the Bengals gave him some great offensive weapons and built up that defense to the point where it was in a decent spot, but until Joe Burrow, I have never seen a quarterback change a team’s fortunes that quickly. They took him with the #1 overall pick in 2020, and in 2021 they were in the Super Bowl.
I’m looking back at QBs taken #1 overall and how long it took the best of them to reach Super Bowls, and I don’t think anybody did it as quickly as Joey B. Eli Manning was drafted #1 in 2004, and the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007. That’s a pretty quick turnaround, but not as fast as Burrow (although of course Burrow lost in the Super Bowl).
Troy Aikman was drafted first overall in 1989, and the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1992. Quick turnaround as well.
John Elway was drafted #1 in 1983, and had the Broncos in the Super Bowl in 1986, although they lost.
So outside of Joe Burrow, the shortest time it took a #1 overall QB to get his team to the Super Bowl was 4 years. Joe Burrow did it in two years. That’s just incredible. It’s also extremely rare, and so I think it’s stupid for teams to bank on something like that happening for them.
Look, you’re unlikely to win a Super Bowl to begin with as it is. There are 32 teams and only one team can win it.
The best way to do it is not to tank, not to continually enter “rebuilds,” but to be constantly BUILDING your roster and trying to improve it at all times, and then when the time comes, address the deficiencies that are preventing you from winning a Super Bowl, and then make your run at it.
For most teams, the missing piece is the quarterback. That’s how it was for the Steelers in the 2000s, the Chiefs, the Seahawks in 2013, the Broncos with Peyton Manning, and even the Patriots. You plug a great quarterback into an already solid roster and watch him take the team from good to great.
The takeaway here is that it’s okay to not have a franchise quarterback. Build up your roster until you find one.
To me, that’s the tried and true method–the most likely path to a Super Bowl. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s the best chance you have.
In my view, it’s a much smarter and more prudent approach than being the team that is constantly firing its coaches, constantly firing its GMs, bringing in “new regimes” that promptly “blow it all up,” and “start from scratch,” and then take on the impossible task of nailing every draft pick and free agent signing for like 3-4 years straight.
The team will suck because the cupboard is basically bare, then everyone will turn on the head coach and think he “sucks” even though the reality is he just doesn’t have the roster to win. And then when that coach is finally fired in disgrace, the new regime will come in, trade away what few good players there actually were on the roster, and then the rebuild cycle begins anew.
Because new GMs always want to “bring in their own guys.”
You always hear that. And it’s understandable. But there’s nothing wrong with keeping players acquired by the old regime.
In fact, it’s the only way you can actually build up a talented roster.
Again, I’m going to say it for the 100th time: you don’t build up a talented roster by trading talented players away. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I don’t want to hear, “But draft picks!” or “But cap space!”
No. You build up a talented roster by keeping and acquiring talented players. It’s that simple.
I don’t believe in this addition by subtraction nonsense.
Look, obviously if there are guys who are bad culture fits or “character concerns” guys, I’m okay with getting rid of them. Send them packing if they’re not buying in. But trading a talented player just because you want to free up cap space, or because he’s not exactly on your perfect little timeline, that’s stupid as hell.
So the Bears get rid of Roquan instead of using him as a building block or centerpiece of their future defense. Now they just have a few young guys in the secondary–Brisker, Gordon, Jaylon Johnson.
By the time those guys are good in a few years, the Bears will already be on to their next rebuild, and they’ll trade those guys away because they’re not on the right timeline, or they want to free up cap space or some bullshit.
There’s no farm league in the NFL but the bad teams in the league are close enough to it. The Bears draft Roquan Smith, develop him, and watch him turn into a star. And then, when he hits 26 years old, he goes to a real team, the Ravens. The Bears spent a first round pick on him, the Ravens got him for a second round pick, and he’s still in his prime. Can’t beat that.
The Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper from the Raiders, another poverty franchise. Raiders spent a high draft pick on him, then the Cowboys got him a few years later in his prime because the Raiders couldn’t win with him.
Talent has a propensity of making its way from bad teams to good teams. It’s just the way the league works. I instantly knew the Bears got fleeced on the Roquan trade when I saw which team they traded him to: the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens are a smart team; they’re usually a winning team. They know how to build a winning roster. They are good at acquiring and retaining talent.
The Ravens have other needs. They need receivers, they probably could use some help in the secondary, and did I mention they need receivers in the worst way.
But yet, they still traded for Roquan Smith. They saw that a dumb team was offering an All Pro linebacker for just a second round pick, and they couldn’t pass it up. They know they’re not going to find a player as good as Roquan Smith in the late second round of the draft, so it’s a no-brainer for them. They’re a good team, and they got even better. Sure, they could’ve really used a wide receiver for Lamar, but they’re a team that understands you play the hand you’re dealt. The price for a receiver was probably way too high, so they took the best deal available to them, and it turned out to be a linebacker. The bottom line is they got better. They added yet another talented player to their already talented roster.
The Ravens are a smart team that understands you win by BUILDING your roster, not by blowing it up and hoping you hit on some draft picks down the road.
The odds are extremely low that the Bears will find any player in the draft as good as Roquan Smith with the likely-late second round pick they got in exchange for him. There’s about a one in five chance the player they draft will be come a Pro Bowler, which isn’t even as good as Roquan Smith, who was an All Pro.
And then with the cap space freed up they will probably overpay for Jakobi Meyers in free agency.
That’s what they’re going to get in exchange for Roquan: a #2 receiver that they will pay like a #1, and a draft pick in the late second round that has about a one in five chance of turning into a Pro Bowler.
And yet there are people out there praising the Bears for making that move.
“They got a draft pick!” “Who needs an inside linebacker anyway?” “Cap space!!!”
Bears fans are happy about getting a draft pick when their GM Ryan Poles passed on George Pickens in the second round to take Kyler Gordon (a cornerback) and Jaquan Brisker (a safety)? Those two are good players, Brisker especially, but Pickens was on the board. The Bears took Velus Jones in the third round, a 25-year-old wide receiver from Tennessee who can’t catch the ball.
You’re going to trust Ryan Poles, the guy who passed on George Pickens and then took Velus Jones, to find a franchise wide receiver in the draft?
I don’t care if George Pickens is a head case. He’s an insanely talented wide receiver, and Justin Fields would benefit immensely from having him to throw to.
One additional but very important point here about the Bears: they already have their future quarterback on their roster! And they are STILL in the process of “blowing it all up”!
The Bengals didn’t start blowing it up after they got Joe Burrow, did they? No, of course not, because once you have the franchise quarterback, the clock is ticking and you’re in win now mode.
The Bears are not in win now mode at all, apparently. They’re in “blow it all up, let’s rebuild and be good in 3 years mode.”
The Bears are in “Trust the Process” mode even though they already have their QB of the future on their roster.
What if Fields turns into a top-10 quarterback?
By the time the Bears have a decent roster, they’ll have to pay Fields big bucks and they won’t even be able to afford to have a good roster around him.
Poles should not be blowing it up with the franchise QB already on the roster. He should be building the roster and filling in whatever holes are left.
I thought the Bears prior to the season were going to be pretty good. Obviously they got rid of Khalil Mack in the offseason, and then let Akiem Hicks go, and then came the trades of Quinn and Roquan. They’d be a pretty good defense if they still had those guys. I think they’d be a good enough defense, too.
At that point, all they’d have to do is add maybe another offensive lineman or two, and of course some receiving talent.
You don’t need to blow the roster up to get that. Fields is progressing wonderfully this year. Something clicked with him following week 4 and he’s been on a totally different level since then.
I didn’t the Bears were that far off from being a playoff team prior to all the trades.
But now they’re years away because they’re chasing this myth of a rebuild, which in reality is the best way to consign yourself to mediocrity indefinitely.
It’s not rocket science: get good players, keep good players, add more good players whenever possible.