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What the Bears are hoping to accomplish at the NFL Combine

1 year agoChris Emma

The first ever NFL Combine held in the capital city of Indiana came back in 1987, an intimate affair lacking the fanfare it now boasts.  


Indianapolis became the home for the NFL Combine because of its centralized location and convenience, a compact downtown with easy access to the stadium, meeting rooms, hotels and nightlife. Those who have been attending for many of these past 35 years know well the Combine’s secrets — from how to score a reservation at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse to making the most of this important week in town. 


The NFL Combine is no longer a small affair as it was more than three decades ago. It’s a week-long television event and pivotal point in the offseason. Just as the state of Indiana is the Crossroads of America, the Combine is the central hub for each of the NFL’s 32 teams. It’s home for the start of this offseason and where plans for each team truly take shape. 


For all that’s brought before fans on national television — those 40-yard dash runs and a late February football fix — what matters most from the NFL Combine happens behind the scenes in Indianapolis. It’s the site of conversations between league general managers, where handshakes with player agents are exchanged, and the informal beginning to an offseason of activity.  


Ryan Poles is set to arrive early next week to Indianapolis for his second NFL Combine as the Bears’ general manager, and one of the most popular individuals to walk through the Indiana Convention Center. Poles is preparing to shop the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and seek a bidding war that benefits the Bears’ long-term future. Chicago also has more than $100 million in salary cap space available, by far the most of any team in the NFL. 


This is where it all begins for the Bears and their hopes for a transformation in 2023. The resources at Poles’ disposal represent the potential for a franchise turnaround — tools towards the type of sustained success Chicago has long coveted. 


Poles can open the bidding for that top overall draft pick, getting teams desperate for a quarterback to name their price. The starting point should be a pair of first-round picks and multiple other selections included. 


The Bears can engage in active negotiations with the Texans and Colts, a pair of AFC South rivals that have fallen into precarious positions. Or a similar bargaining battle between NFC South foes in the Falcons and Panthers, who each pick in the top 10. Would you rather have Bryce Young or face him for a decade? That’s the premise Poles can present to these teams as they put offers on the table. 


There might not be a trade of the top pick until April 27, when the Bears are set to go on the clock in this draft. Unless there’s an offer presented that cannot be passed up, Poles holds the cards in his hands to make that move.  


The Combine certainly sets the stage for the NFL’s free-agent frenzy, which officially begins with the open negotiation period on March 13 — but unofficially kicks off in Indianapolis with conversations between teams and player representatives. Poles will truly get a sense for what those nine figures of salary cap space represent as he seeks to construct a playoff contender next season. 


Talent evaluators in Indianapolis will get the opportunity to confirm measurables of each prospect, sit down with them in a private setting and — perhaps most importantly — gain a more clear medical assessment. The Combine still serves the same purpose it did 36 years ago when it arrived at the old Hoosier Dome for the first time. 


But as Poles and his Bears brass travel south to Indianapolis, they’ll be readying for a week that will set the foundation for this offseason to come. They’re open for business. 

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