Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles said he was open to trading the first overall pick in the 2023 draft before the start of free agency, and that’s exactly what he did on Friday. Per ESPN, the Bears are sending the No. 1 overall selection to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for pick No. 9, pick No. 61, a first-rounder in 2024, a second-rounder in 2025, and wide receiver DJ Moore.
Chicago Bears Set Themselves up for Years to Come With Draft Mega-Trade
The Bears should send a gift basket to former head coach Lovie Smith, who, in his final game as the Texans’ head coach, led Houston to a last-second victory in Week 18 of the 2022 season. That win shifted the Texans to No. 2 in the 2023 NFL Draft order and allowed Chicago to move into the top slot.
With Justin Fields on the roster, drafting another quarterback never seemed like a realistic option for the Bears. Poles said in January that he would have to be “absolutely blown away” by a quarterback prospect to “make that type of decision.”
But this year’s draft class contains four likely first-round signal-callers: Bryce Young (Alabama), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), Anthony Richardson (Florida), and Will Levis (Kentucky). With nearly half the NFL at least considering the addition of a new quarterback, the Bears held all the leverage they needed to secure a massive compensation package.
MORE: Carolina Panthers Trade for No. 1 Overall Pick From the Chicago Bears
Moving down to ninth is significant for the Bears, as it will put them out of range to target Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr., considered the best defensive player in the draft. But Chicago might have the chance to draft Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter (who’s been beset by off-the-field issues) or add an offensive tackle prospect such as Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. or Georgia’s Broderick Jones.
Adding another first-round selection in 2024 and two additional second-round picks (one in 2025) will give the Bears the capital to move around the board on draft day. Still, Chicago has enough roster holes that it probably makes more sense to hold onto those selections.
All told, the Bears now have 10 picks in the 2023 draft, including four in the top 65 and seven in the top 140.
DJ Moore Gives Chicago a Legitimate WR1
In addition to those extra draft picks, the Bears are also adding a proven commodity in Moore, who has averaged a 73/1,040/4 line over five NFL seasons despite working with suboptimal quarterback play. He’s still only 25 years old and will instantly become Fields’ WR1.
Chicago tried to acquire pass-catching help for Fields at last year’s trade deadline when they sent a second-round pick — which will end up being the 32nd overall selection in 2022 — to the Steelers in exchange for Chase Claypool. But Claypool managed just 32 receptions and 311 yards in eight games with the Bears, hardly solidifying himself as Fields’ top option.
The Bears also have Darnell Mooney on their roster, but he regressed last season and is scheduled to hit free agency in 2024. Bringing Moore into the fold elevates Chicago’s weaponry in the near term, but it also gives them long-term flexibility. The Bears won’t feel as though they must re-sign one of Claypool or Mooney next offseason now that Moore is on their roster.
MORE: List of Chicago Bears Draft Picks in 2023 NFL Draft
Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Chicago was targeting Moore and wanted to ensure they landed him before the start of free agency, hence why this trade occurred on the Friday afternoon before the beginning of the new league year.
For the Bears, acquiring Moore makes plenty of sense from a market and financial perspective. This year’s free agent wide receiver class has been largely picked over, leaving players like Jakobi Meyers and JuJu Smith-Schuster as the top available options. Turning to the trade market gave Chicago access to a higher tier of pass catcher.
The Bears have nearly $100 million in cap space to deploy this offseason, and they need to need to spend a hefty amount of cash to meet the NFL’s minimum spending levels. That might have proven difficult in a free agent market that lacks high-end talent.
Instead, they’ll take on the three years and $52.3 million remaining on Moore’s contract. In a market where Meyers might land $15+ million annually, Moore’s deal represents a bargain.
The Bears Are Giving Themselves Options
Acquiring extra draft capital — both in 2023 and in future seasons — will allow the Bears to restock a roster that’s become devoid of talent at premium positions. But those additional selections, especially those in 2024 and 2025, could also give Chicago the chance to find another quarterback if Fields doesn’t take a step forward during the upcoming season.
Fields is one of the more dynamic athletes in the NFL, as evidenced by the 1,143 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns he put up last season. But he still has plenty of work to do as a passer, so much so that drafting another QB in 2023 was at least considered a mild possibility by analysts and those around the league.
MORE: List of Carolina Panthers Draft Picks in 2023 NFL Draft
Clearly, the Bears won’t go that route after making this trade with the Panthers. But they’ve give themselves the opportunity to change course next season or the year after.
The 2023 quarterback class is solid, but the 2024 class will include options like USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Chicago now has the luxury of giving Fields another year of development. They’ve given him a top-notch receiver — if he struggles again in 2023, it’s entirely possible the Bears could draft his replacement in 2024.
That’s how Poles and Chicago’s front office can win this trade — by giving themselves optionality. They now have the choice to move up or down this year’s draft board, acquire even more future selections, or find a new quarterback in 2024. For a team entering the second phase of its rebuild, that level of flexibility could mean everything.