Bears-Panthers trade: Why the hit move was the right call for GM Ryan Poles

When the Bears left the NFL Scouting Combine, the question wasn’t whether to trade the first pick.

The buzz turned to what team that would be and how much they would get for it.

On Friday, everyone got their answers.

That team became the Panthers, and by God, the Bears got the No. 1 pick outright.

The trade of the Bears with the Panthers will not be official until the start of the new league year on Wednesday. But here’s the deal: The Panthers get the first pick for their best running back in the NFL draft; The Bears get Nos. 9 and 61 this year, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-rounder and receiver DJ Moore.

Adding Moore is the proverbial icing on the cake for Chicago.

The AthleticAdam Jahns and Kevin Fishbain talk about the blockbuster, one that has the potential to change the Bears for years to come.

Jahnovo: Fish, that’s almost unbelievable. It’s not like the Bears traded away the first pick. We all knew it would happen eventually. That’s the catch they got. In one move, general manager Ryan Poles got Justin Fields, the No. 1 receiver, and more capital to reel in around him. Poles deserves credit for how he played this week, and especially in the mix last week when the other GMs did their best to put up smokescreens. Teams always feel compelled to look for running backs. The Poles never seemed to underestimate this desire. After all, he was part of the Chiefs front office that did the same for Patrick Mahomes in 2017.

Fishbain: We knew the Panthers could be that team. They fit in as a franchise ready to be aggressive, and the Poles took advantage of that. Let’s start with Moore. The capital involved is great, but who knows what comes of it? We know Moore is the Bears best receiver right now and immediately makes Fields and the offense better. He will also be 26 years old at the start of next season. This is not a one year guy. I mocked Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigbi to the Bears in our last mock draft because I felt they needed a dynamic receiver and couldn’t get a veteran. Enter Moore.

Jahnovo: Bears receivers look like a good group now: Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Velus Jones Jr. and Equanimeous St. Brown. Add recipient no. 1 like Moore — who has three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in five years — improves everything. The fields must be ecstatic. It’s instant help. But it is also a long-term move for the Poles and the Bears. Moore is under contract for this season and the next two. The Bears can now turn their full attention to addressing their offensive and defensive lines in free agency and the draft.

Fishbain: Before we get to the trenches, here’s a thought exercise: Are the Poles done at wide receiver? I know I said Moore is the right guy and they don’t need to consider Jaxon Smith-Njigba or any of the other top receiver prospects, but consider this: What does the future hold for Mooney and Claypool? Will both be re-signed? I’m not ready to close the door on adding a playmaker. But there are bigger priorities.

Jahnovo: That’s because there are still big holes in the roster. Signing right tackle Mike McGlinchey, linebacker Bobby Okereke and three-technique defensive end Dre’Mont Jones in free agency would immediately fill out three of those, much like Moore’s arrival. The Bears still have the salary cap space to make all three happen. I don’t think Moore is changing the Bears’ offense for the sake of free agency. I’d be willing to bet the Bears have included adding a receiver of Moore’s caliber in their plans and scenarios for this offseason, especially with the No. 1 pick at their disposal.

Fishbain: Those moves next week will help determine what to watch for in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the draft. Poles have flexibility. He can move from number 9 if he wants. He probably won’t get Will Anderson Jr., but if enough quarterbacks go early, he can pick his spot to get his guy, whether it’s someone like Northwestern tight end Peter Skoronski, Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson, Iowa defensive end Lukas Van Ness or corner, like Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. We talked so often last season about how the Bears lacked blue chip players. Poles has plenty of swings he can take to add prospects who have traits that can help him build his ultimate goal: a consistent winner.

Jahnovo: That’s the point. The Poles wanted those extra swings. He wasn’t in a position to just take one with the first pick. The Bears have too many holes on their roster. He needed more liquid capital. You have to appreciate his process. The Andersons are not far from being contenders in the NFC. But now the Poles have a No. 1 receiver for Fields, an extra second-round pick this year, another first in 2024 and then another second in 2025. I didn’t mean to repeat the tradeoff. But it’s worth pointing out again. It’s a potentially franchise-changing move for the Bears and a career-changing move for Poles.

Fishbain: And it came on the first anniversary of the Khalil Mack trade, the start of the Polish overhaul. It’s not easy to do a multi-year rebuild in the NFL, but George McCaskey has empowered the Poles to build this team in a way we haven’t seen in Chicago in a long time. Next up is the draft pick and getting a better game from Fields. If they still lack talent, they already have chips for the next two drafts. Check out the Lions now. It’s strange to single them out as role models, but they are an up arrow after last season’s success and this year’s draft picks. The Bears could be in that spot next year — or better if Fields takes off.

(Justin Fields photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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