‘Everything we thought and more’: Chicago Bears’ 3 biggest acquisitions of 2023 all paid big dividends

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General manager Ryan Poles had grand goals for the Chicago Bears season finale. He hoped they would walk into Lambeau Field, end the Green Bay Packers’ playoff hopes and punctuate a late-season run of success that could have included three consecutive NFC North wins and a 6-2 record over the final eight games.

Instead, the Bears were smacked around in a 17-9 loss to their rivals that was not nearly as close as the score. Poles left Wisconsin dazed, headed into a pivotal offseason with a timely yet sobering realization.

“We’re just not there yet,” Poles said last week at an end-of-season news conference.

“There” is the Bears’ target destination, still off in the distance but at least now in view.

“There” is getting closer. Playoff contention. Legitimate championship hopes. Having a rock-solid team that can consistently compete among the league’s top tier.

“We have to continue to get to a point where we take that next step and continue to add players to put ourselves in that position,” Poles said.

That was as much a self-imposed directive as it was an epiphany. Poles knows the 2024 offseason is overflowing with opportunity.

He owns the No. 1 pick in the April draft plus the No. 9 selection. The team’s salary-cap health is optimal to attack free agency with calculated aggression. And the roster is solid enough on both sides of the ball for Poles to target his next cycle of roster moves.

Poles affirmed his belief in Matt Eberflus as the ideal coach to lead this team to the next level, then vowed to continue supplying Eberflus with game-changing playmakers who will help.

The good news? The roster Poles overhauled over the last two years now is supplied with the kind of difference makers the Bears need to make their next leap.

It’s simply about adding more. Piece by piece. Player by player. And there’s reason to feel optimistic about what Poles can accomplish over the next four-plus months.

A look back at the roster improvements in 2023 shows three high-profile acquisitions that panned out exactly as the Bears hoped they would.

DJ Moore

Acquired: March 10 via trade with the Carolina Panthers
2023 stats: 96 receptions, 1,364 yards, eight touchdowns

The superlative list for Moore is written in Sharpie at Halas Hall and continues to lengthen.

Productive. Driven. Unselfish.

Low maintenance, in the description of former Bears wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert.

“One of the best receivers I ever coached with the non-’superstar’ demeanor was Demaryius Thomas in Denver,” Tolbert said toward the end of the season. “He made five straight Pro Bowls and played in the Super Bowl.

“DJ reminds me of Demaryius as far as his mindset and how he approaches the game. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but then he goes out there and plays and people go, ‘Ooooh!’ They look up to him not because he is the loudest in the room but because he is a good player.”

Tolbert was also among many in the Bears organization who couldn’t stop raving about Moore’s toughness. Example: On the second play of a Week 16 win against the Arizona Cardinals, Moore suffered what appeared to be a gnarly right ankle sprain. He went immediately to the blue medical tent on the sideline for evaluation, then spent a few moments on the bench.

No Bears coach or player would have faulted Moore if he didn’t play again that afternoon. Instead, he logged 50 more snaps, dialed in on his recovery on Christmas and the day after and was never even listed on the injury report in Week 17.

“That joker is tough,” Tolbert said.

Oh, and Moore followed in that next game — a blowout of the Atlanta Falcons — with nine catches, 159 yards and a touchdown, continuing a career year in his first season in Chicago. He finished the season sixth in the league in receiving yards and eighth in receiving touchdowns while coaches and teammates lauded him as an every-week difference maker.

Keep adding to that superlative list. Building block. Warrior. Star.

Darnell Wright

Acquired: April 27, drafted at No. 10 after the Bears traded back twice
2023 stats: 17 starts, 1,133 snaps played

The Bears fell in love with Wright during the pre-draft process, then verified their belief in his upside during a private, on-campus workout April 8 in Knoxville, Tenn. That intentionally grueling workout was overseen by offensive line coach Chris Morgan, who nearly nine months later continues to rave about the career ascent Wright has begun.

“Darnell is a really good football player right now,” Morgan said this month. “And I think he’s going to be a great football player. He can do anything that we ask. And when he does it, he does it right.

“He has been dominant at times (this season). And that consistency piece that I mention with the young guys is (key). This is pro football. You have to be locked in for 70, 80, 62 plays — whatever the number is that day. You have to be locked in for every one of those or you’ll get exposed.”

Poles, a former offensive lineman, saw Wright thrive with his natural ability.

“In a lot of games,” Poles said, “that was good enough.”

Now the Bears will push Wright to become more polished and savvy while teaching him, in Poles’ description, how to “use the right techniques versus the right players”

“There’s a Rolodex you’ve got to build out in terms of the pass rushers that you go against,” Poles said. “Because they all have different stuff. So once he starts putting that together, you’re going to see a really good player.”

Morgan has coached offensive linemen for 15 years in the NFL and holds up All-Pros Trent Williams and Alex Mack and Pro Bowler Russell Okung as his standard.

“I’ve been around a lot of good ones,” Morgan said. “And they all shared three common traits. Smart. Tough. Elite competitor.”

Morgan, who is often measured with his praise, sees the possibility for Wright to one day join that prestigious list. As a rookie, Wright missed only five snaps when he injured his shoulder against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 7.

“He has shown us everything that we thought he could be and more,” Morgan said. “He’s going to be everything we thought he could be.”

Montez Sweat

Acquired: Oct. 31 via trade with the Washington Commanders
2023 stats: 12 1/2 sacks and 25 quarterback hits overall; six sacks and 14 QB hits in nine games with the Bears

Sweat cost the Bears a second-round pick in a midseason trade and then $72.9 million in guaranteed money folded into the four-year, $98 million extension they gave him the same week. Poles was convinced Sweat would become a “multiplier” for the defense.

“He’s going to allow everyone to play better — our entire defensive front, our corners, our safeties,” Poles said in Week 9.

He was right. Sweat emerged as a Pro Bowl performer.

“When you add players like that, all of a sudden you can see everyone had a little bit more swagger to them,” Poles said last week. “It affected the back end. You saw our interceptions go up. You saw us win more games.”

The production of the Bears defense spiked significantly after Sweat joined the team, with the unit playing well in all phases across all three levels.

The Bears finished with 16 interceptions over their final seven games. In the first 27 games of the Eberflus era, pre-Sweat, the defense had 20 picks. Yes, “The Tez Effect” is real.

“He creates a pressure player from the front,” Eberflus said. “When you have that, then you’re able to play coverage and then you can vary your coverages. You can make them look different and disguise them. That’s very hard on the quarterback.”

Sweat is under contract through 2027. The dividends from that trade should continue to multiply.


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