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Bad News on Bates for Bears

  • Bryan Perez
  • March 28, 2022
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For the second time in the 2022 free-agency period, Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Poles swung and missed on signing a potential starter. First, it was defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who failed his physical after agreeing to a three-year, $40.5 million contract to play the three-technique in Head Coach Matt Eberflus’ defense. On Monday, Poles’ attempt to sign Buffalo Bills guard Ryan Bates failed.

The Bears signed Bates to a four-year, $17 million offer sheet that the Bills had until Tuesday to match. They exercised that option one day early in what was a surprising turn of events. Most analysts and fans already had Bates penciled into Chicago’s starting lineup where he was expected to fill the void left by guard James Daniels, who signed a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s natural to blame someone when things don’t go according to plan. But Poles shouldn’t be criticized for the transactions gone bad. He has no control over a player’s medical exam nor can he dictate whether another club decides to match an offer sheet. He certainly deserves credit for making an effort but there’s no denying he’s been snake-bitten early in his general manager tenure.

There’s a chance the Bears will still end up with Ogunjobi. Poles said Monday he’s willing to sign the five-year pro to a lesser deal, but no formal conversations have taken place just yet. He won’t have that opportunity with Bates, who many around the league viewed as an ascending talent whose best football is ahead of him.

Now, what lies ahead for the Bears is the third tier of available free-agent veterans, as well as the 2022 NFL Draft. Interior offensive linemen like Ereck Flowers and J.C. Tretter remain unsigned, while prospects like Zion Johnson (Boston College) and Dylan Parham (Memphis) slot between No. 22 and 50 on TDN’s NFL Draft rankings. Johnson is unlikely to fall to No. 39 overall, but with two top-50 selections in his arsenal, Poles could get aggressive and trade up for his alma mater’s top prospect.

Regardless, the deflated feeling for Bears fans persists as the primary weeks of free agency come to a close. Sure, Chicago added some talent to the wide receiver room with Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown, and the defense got some juice with linebacker Nicholas Morrow and defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad, but none of these transactions move the needle all that much.

Maybe, in a way, that’s the biggest takeaway from Poles’ first offseason on the job. He isn’t trying to move the needle. Instead, he’s identified a few players – some legitimate starters – who he thinks will upgrade the Bears. Some of those free-agent targets haven’t worked out for reasons beyond his control, with Bates being the most recent example. But none of his early decisions are causes for celebration or doom. He isn’t going to build a championship roster in one free-agency cycle and the Bears’ chances at one day getting to the Super Bowl aren’t erased because a few contracts went awry.

Fans of every team want that new nameplate and number to cheer for. It’s a feeling of hope that comes in equal parts free agency and NFL Draft. So, yeah, it’s a bummer that Poles hasn’t provided that big-time reason to get excited. But it’s a long offseason, and it’s far from over.

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Bryan Perez