Bears News

The departure of Aaron Rodgers and how the Bears can ‘take the North’

1 year agoChris Emma

Seated in the same big chair as his predecessors and wearing the same navy blue suit, orange tie and look of conviction, Ryan Poles boldly revealed his goal for the Bears as their general manager. 

“We’re going to take the North and never give it back,” Poles said late January 2021 as he was introduced inside the George “Mugs” Halas Auditorium. 

Since that day of welcomed change at Halas Hall, the 37-year-old Poles has put the Bears on a path towards that goal — never declaring when the destination would arrive.

Perhaps it could be here. 

Poles has positioned the Bears for the type of sustained success that this franchise has never seen in the Super Bowl era, this at a period when the NFC North could be open for the taking. On Friday, he pulled off a deal for the No. 1 overall pick with the Panthers, who sent the Bears a package that included the No. 9 overall pick, a 2024 first-round selection, a pair of second-round slots and star wide receiver D.J. Moore. 

The Bears invested in the potential offered by promising quarterback Justin Fields, bringing him a dynamic target in Moore and with more pieces on offense to come. Poles also has formed a defense that meets the vision of head coach Matt Eberflus, landing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards to join a defense with building blocks like Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon and Jack Sanborn. 

The Bears still have a projected $45.2 million in salary cap space, still the most of any team in the NFL, which offers the “flexibility” that Poles coveted moving forward. When Poles spoke of being “selective” in free agency, he meant finding players just entering their prime that can form a championship-caliber core. Chicago has nine selections in this 2023 NFL Draft and can add to its budding roster. 

Meanwhile, the Packers’ reign atop the NFC North — with 15 playoff berths and a dozen division crowns — could be over as future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers revealed Wednesday on the Pat McAfee Show that he intends to play next season for the Jets.  

Rodgers was 24-5 against the Bears during his time as the Packers’ starting quarterback. He owned Chicago, and even announced it at Soldier Field two years ago. Now, Green Bay could be heading towards a rebuilding period of its own. 

The winners of the NFC North in 2022, the Vikings were 13-4 while finishing with a minus-3 point differential — an indicator of great fortunes last season and a warning sign. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah seems to realize the shaky grounds of his franchise and is making difficult decisions like releasing receiver Adam Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks. A deal of four-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook could come this offseason. Minnesota is closer to unraveling than repeating as division champions. 

The Lions were 9-8 last season and capped off their upstart campaign with a stunning victory in Lambeau Field that prevented the Packers from the playoffs, even with their own postseason hopes dashed. But similar to the Bears, the Lions are still building a roster and aren’t ready to proclaim legitimate Super Bowl hopes. 

The Bears are set up better than any team in the NFC North to enjoy lasting success at the top of the division, this thanks to the potential of Fields as a franchise quarterback and the growth of a talented young roster.  

The Bears are in the same place as the Jaguars were a year ago, when they held the No. 1 overall pick and the most salary cap space of any team in the NFL following a 3-14 campaign. Jacksonville believed in quarterback Trevor Lawrence, spent wisely in free agency and built a strong roster through the draft. 

The Jaguars rebounded from their 3-14 season to go 9-8 in 2022, winning six of their last seven games in the regular season and finishing atop a weak AFC South. It’s the type of stair-step progress that Poles hopes the Bears can reach. 

Poles isn’t the first Bears general manager to sit in that same chair and speak of lofty goals for this franchise. But he has approached those aspirations with the plan and opportunity to strike. 

At long last, the Bears can truly take the North. 

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