Arkush: With No. 1 pick and $100M to spend on free agents, next few months big for Bears Poles

INDIANAPOLIS - Of course the story for every team in the NFL last week in Indianapolis was the upcoming draft, but right now Bears General Manager Ryan Poles has a much bigger issue to deal with.

There are still almost two months until the draft kicks off on April 27 and while Poles is already knee-deep studying the top college prospects and talking to multiple teams about potential draft choice trades, free agency begins in just 12 days.

The biggest deals for the best players are being negotiated right now, and anyone who knows anything about the NFL knows Poles has far and away the most money to spend.

The bottom line is that what he does over the next two months is going to have a huge impact on and may perhaps even dictate Poles' success or failure as the GM of the Bears.

The Bears aren't going to the Super Bowl in 2023 and it's highly unlikely they'll even be in the playoffs. But with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and roughly $100 million to spend in free agency, Poles does have the assets to vastly improve his team this year and possibly have them ready to make a playoff run next year.

But if he starts next year with the No. 1 pick and the most cap space in the league he could lose his job.

Where his focus has to be at the moment is to find out how much better he can get right now via free agency because it will have a huge impact on how he uses his draft capital in April.

And sadly with that comes some bad news. It's not a crisis or a disaster but it is quite disappointing that while there is much to be excited about in this year's draft, this year's free agent class is one of the least impressive we've seen in years.

What the Bears need to accomplish their goals isn't just to get better on the defensive and offensive lines and at receiver, they need Pro Bowlers in all three spots.

Free agents are much easier to evaluate than draft choices and it doesn't look like there are any sure-fire Pro Bowlers to choose from there.

Defensive tackle Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders was their best bet but the Commanders franchise tagged him Friday, taking him off the board.

The Philadelphia Eagles Davon Hargrave is now Poles best free agent option at defensive tackle and he could be an excellent addition but he is 30 years old. Many great defensive tackles make a difference well into their 30s but it is a risk for the money he will command.

There are a number of interesting edge rushers available as free agents, but none younger than their early to mid 30s who've shown anything special yet.

The Patriots' Jakobi Meyers, Kansas City's Juju Smith Schuster and Mecole Hardman and the Packers Allen Lazard would all be upgrades for the Bears at wide receiver but they are all number 2s or 3s and none is likely to be a difference maker.

Offensive right tackle Kaleb McGarvy from the Falcons, Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Bucs linebacker Lavonte David would all be nice additions and are worth considering but the Bears would probably have to overpay for McGarvy or Barkley.

The Bears can get better via free agency, and hopefully for them they will, but they can't commit to players via the draft until they know how free agency has changed them.

And the smartest thing Poles can do is to be patient with his money and try, and have the most to spend in free agency again next year when hopefully he'll be closer to ready to compete, and the talent will be much deeper.

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