The Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles made an incredible effort so far to build a consistently winning team. He understands that the fans are frustrated with all this losing and they deserve a team that can compete for the playoffs year after year.
Poles tore the team down last season in order to build it back up into a winner. He shipped out a lot of popular players and replaced them with temporary stopgaps. Neither he nor the coaching staff thought the team would amount to much. Having the season they did last year (3-14 record, losers of their last 10 games) was a necessary evil to get the rebuild up and running this season.
Poles continued to make moves as the trade deadline came. He traded away more players and received draft picks in exchange. One of those deals also included a player.
Poles traded for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool. Claypool started out his career playing well. He had over 800 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He has the ability to be an effective receiver either on the outside or in the slot. He runs good routes and has good hands. He would be a good player to help in quarterback Justin Fields’ development.
Poles gave up his own second-round pick for Claypool. It ended up being the first pick in that round. However, with the Miami Dolphins losing their first-round pick as a result of their tampering when Tom Brady was a free agent, the Bears’ pick essentially became the 32nd pick, a de facto first-round pick.
Claypool came over to the Chicago Bears and promptly struggled to fit into the offense. At times he looked lost, lining up in the wrong spot. He dealt with some injuries and was just plain ineffective. In seven games with the Bears, he finished with just 14 catches for 140 yards and no touchdowns. That averaged out to 2 catches for 20 yards per game.
To be fair, it is difficult for the skill players to come in midway through the season and understand a new system right away. With offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system, the learning curve is even greater.
Fields and Darnell Mooney had the most chemistry on the roster last season. They spent all last offseason together learning the system. Despite that, and training camp and preseason games, they had trouble connecting early on in the season. In the month of September Mooney had just 3 catches for 27 yards.
Seeing Claypool struggle without having any time to learn the system was not surprising then. The thought was that with an offseason, training camp, and some preseason action, he and Fields would be on the same page.
Things did not work out as anyone planned, however. Claypool suffered some injuries that kept him out of OTAs and the veteran minicamp. He wasn’t able to work out with Fields and the rest of the team.
Then a report came out indicating that the Chicago Bears brass were disappointed with Claypool’s work ethic. The reaction of fans could be measured on the Richter Scale. With giving up such a valuable draft pick, Claypool’s struggles, and now a claim that he isn’t working hard angered the fanbase.
What an uproar that report caused. Everyone started chiming in on how horrible the trade was. Chicago Bears legend Charles Tillman blasted Claypool. And the media, not known for piling on (sarcasm, folks), were giddy writing articles about how the Bears were ready to cut ties with him and that he’d be a cut candidate.
Never mind that publicly the Bears lauded Claypool. Poles, Fields, and head coach Matt Eberflus complimented him on his work this offseason. However, unnamed sources are apparently better than getting it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Well, let’s get that last one out of the way. After giving up such a valuable pick, Poles will not cut Claypool after seven regular season games. Claypool will make the team and will start as WR3. Poles, at worst, will wait until the trade deadline again to see how he is playing. If it isn’t up to par, then he will trade him. Even though he won’t get what he gave up, receiving any draft pick in a rebuild is a positive.
Claypool hears the critics and has a message for them and Chicago Bears fans
Claypool hears all of the critics bashing him. Additionally, he understands that he needs to have a good year for the Chicago Bears. There is a perception about him that spread like wildfire around the league. As we know, perception is reality.
Additionally, it is difficult to change perception. If Claypool doesn’t nip this in the bud this season, that tag will stick with him. Teams around the NFL will think twice about picking him up. He could go from being considered a big part of an offense to being nothing more than a forgotten backup moving from team to team (see Dante Pettis).
Claypool understands all of that and he vows to turn things around. He has a message for all of his critics.
"It’s the biggest year of my life, and I understand that. If anybody thinks my work ethic isn’t matching that, they’re deeply mistaken. Maybe people weren’t happy with how I dealt with the offseason, but that’s only the perception that was given to them and not the reality that’s true."
Claypool says he spent the offseason learning the playbook from beginning to end. He made cue cards and tested himself constantly so he could get them into his head. He said that elicited jokes from his teammates.
Additionally, Claypool said he recorded himself calling out the plays, then played them back. He is doing everything he can to get a handle on the system so he can play well.
Earlier this month, Claypool spoke about going through his struggles. He said the difference between this season and last will be like night and day. Also, he said that the learning curves will be great for this season.
"I think fans will be loving the next year. I’m excited, obviously with the additions we had in the offseason, but just being able to stack that knowledge from last season, all those learning and growth spurts we had to go through to this season is going to be great."
Of course, words don’t mean much. Claypool has to show his critics when he hits the field. He needs to show that he is still a receiver that teams can count on. He knows that the fans in Chicago treat their sports heroes like kings. If Claypool is an essential part of a new era of winning Chicago Bears football whatever was said this offseason will quickly be forgotten and the fans will love him.