It’s not often that you see a 2-6 team buying at the NFL trade deadline, which passed earlier this week. These teams are sending their better, more expensive veterans off to contenders and trying to accumulate draft capital to build for the future. The Chicago Bears and general manager Ryan Poles are doing no such thing. On Tuesday morning, the Bears sent a second round pick (likely to be in the 33-40 range) to the Washington Commanders for edge rusher Montez Sweat. The move raises the question: what direction are the Bears headed?
Photo Cred: USA Today
Chicago cost themselves a similar pick at last year’s trade deadline, when they sent a second-rounder to Pittsburgh for Chase Claypool. That one is a disaster of a move that makes even less sense looking back on it now than it did at the time. Claypool was never a contributor for the Bears and has already moved on to Miami. Now, with this move, Poles deserves a little more credit because Sweat is a good player. The former Mississippi State star is one of the better pass rushers in the league and fills a position of need for a toothless Bears pass rush.
While the move makes sense in that regard, that’s where the sound reasoning stops. First, Sweat is in a contract year and will need an extension in a lucrative edge rusher market to stay in Chicago beyond this season. Sweat has yet to sign an extension. While the Bears can use the franchise tag on him if they don’t come to an agreement, why would you give up a second round pick if the player you’re getting isn’t going to be there long-term?
Photo Cred: Yahoo Sports
Sweat isn’t the only defensive player who the Bears need to lock up beyond this year. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson, one of the top young corners in the NFL, is also in need of a new contract and even requested to be traded shortly before the deadline because he was unhappy with the initial talks. No deal went through, and now Chicago is stuck with two players who will seek extensions, both at premier positions.
The Sweat move doesn’t make any sense if he isn’t extended (contrary to, say, the 49ers trading for Chase Young) because the Bears are nowhere close to even making a playoff push, much less competing with the top of the NFC. They’re four games behind the Lions for first place in their division, and their quarterback (Justin Fields) is injured. The only thing the Sweat trade does in the short term is make their defense slightly better, which will help them win more games and worsen their draft position.
The other side of this is what they gave up. Second round picks, especially ones in the range that this Bears pick will likely land in, are valuable in the NFL. The second-round pick that Poles sent to the Steelers last year actually ended up being a pseudo-first rounder (No. 32 overall), and this year’s will likely end up close to that. Second round picks still get four-year contracts and are cheaper than first-round contracts. Inexpensive, quality young players are the foundation of any team trying to rebuild their roster to get back into contention.
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The fact that Chicago is giving that up to pay lucrative deals to established stars, or worse, rentals of said stars for half a season, is not a sound operation. The Bears should, ironically, be following in the footsteps of the Commanders. They traded both Sweat and Young, who don’t fit their timeline, for valuable draft picks that they can use on cheaper young players while they build out their roster. The Bears have too many holes on their team to give picks away.
Chicago’s remaining schedule is manageable, but they likely have to finish the season 7-2 (at worst) to push for the playoffs. It’s going to be nearly impossible to do that with an injured quarterback and two games against the Lions and one against the Browns still to play. They should focus on developing young talent and seeing if Justin Fields is their quarterback of the future. Instead, they’re making win-now moves with one of the worst rosters in football. After Tuesday, the future plan in Chicago looks a whole lot murkier.