Chicago Bears Q&A: Would it be smart to trade down from No. 9? Any big surprise in store? Best pick of the last decade?

NFL draft week is finally here, and the Chicago Bears — with two picks in the top nine — will be at the center of attention Thursday night.

Before general manager Ryan Poles (almost certainly) chooses USC quarterback Caleb Williams at No. 1 shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday, the Tribune’s Brad Biggs answers one more round of readers’ draft questions in the weekly Bears mailbag.

Is the wide receiver class in this draft deep enough to not care about getting one at No. 9? With only four picks and still several roster holes, wouldn’t it be smart to trade down and fill those holes as the draft comes? Could you see the Bears trading back multiple times throughout the draft? — @monturnerx

I don’t see as many holes as you perhaps do. Could the Bears use an edge rusher opposite Montez Sweat? Yes. Is it a glaring hole? Not like it was a year ago. Could they use an offensive tackle? Yes, if they have a high grade on one and aren’t keen on left tackle Braxton Jones’ developmental curve, it would make plenty of sense. Can they use a wide receiver? No question. They’re a little thin after DJ Moore and Keenan Allen, and Allen is entering a contract year. Could they use a penetrating defensive tackle? No question.

Most of these probably fall between what you would call a need and a want, and teams need to closely determine where they are before the draft. That’s why general manager Ryan Poles was able to say with confidence that he has flexibility in reacting to what happens Thursday night in the first eight picks.

I think there’s a bit of a gap between the first three receivers — Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze (put them in any order you like) — and the rest of the class. So getting a top-three receiver considering Allen’s age (32 on Saturday) and contract situation makes a lot of sense. Without a lot of picks, it’s hard to say where the Bears could target another receiver.

I wouldn’t rule out a trade down. If the Bears do go that route, it opens the possibility they could draft a center (another position that sits between need and want after the acquisition of Ryan Bates and Coleman Shelton). But I don’t think we’ll see the Bears trade down time and time again to fill out a draft class. They’re not at that point right now in team building where they need to fill depth. They need elite talent.

“Things shift and change as you go along,” Poles said Tuesday. “It’s going to be hard to make this team now. It’s going to be really hard to make this team. That doesn’t mean you don’t want more shots later. We’ll always welcome a lot of picks. But it doesn’t force you to panic about the situation we’re in right now with how many picks we have. So it fits our roster but it also fits what we just talked about — the current status of this draft and then moving forward what next year looks like as well.”

Is there any outcome of the draft that would be truly disappointing? Assuming Caleb Williams goes No. 1, what positional selection would make you scratch your head? — @noahlaporte

I don’t know that there is one because when you look at how the board could shake out, there will be some top options at a handful of positions that make perfect sense for the Bears. That’s one reason Ryan Poles and assistant GM Ian Cunningham were able to project so much confidence Tuesday when they discussed the draft without saying much of anything about their plans.

Depending on how things go — and I’m talking primarily about how many quarterbacks come off the board in the top eight picks after Caleb Williams goes No. 1 — the Bears will have multiple options and all of them can be deemed good ones. They can sell almost any outcome here and walk away feeling confident they made moves to position themselves as a challenger in the NFC North. I really don’t see a wild-card outcome that would be a head scratcher and have social media and sports-talk airwaves demanding explanations.

My guess right now is the Bears might be focusing on Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze and Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II if they stay at No. 9. There’s a good chance one of them is available, and both could be on the board when the Bears go on the clock. Neither of those moves would be a head scratcher, and you also could make a good argument to draft an edge rusher or an offensive tackle. Heck, you could talk me into Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, too, and that possibility shouldn’t be discounted even though the Bears have Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett. It will be fascinating. I can almost promise that.

What would really surprise you on Thursday night? — Paul P., Chicago

That’s pretty open-ended. I’ll share a really interesting one floating around that I heard from a team Tuesday morning. How about the Minnesota Vikings — who own two first-round picks and are believed to be lurking for a possible trade up to nab one of the top quarterbacks — dealing both of those picks and more to acquire Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert? In that scenario, the Chargers would select Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy with the fifth pick.

Crazy? I think so. I can’t imagine why the Chargers would want to deal Herbert, an elite quarterback who only needs more talent around him. That would constitute a bombshell Thursday night and would really energize the NFC North if the Vikings were able to solve their QB dilemma with a player of Herbert’s caliber. Buckle up.

Here’s a question I’m surprised hasn’t been addressed yet: What assurances does Caleb Williams have that he’s not going to endure what his past two predecessors did — get drafted by a head coach who gets fired after the first season? My hope was that they would have fired Matt Eberflus, hired a new coach and traded Justin Fields so it would be a clean slate. Or if they kept Eberflus, give some guarantee of at least two years so the rookie QB gets at least two seasons under the same head coach. — Brien B., Omaha, Neb.

The only assurance Williams will receive is the fully guaranteed, four-year contract for the No. 1 pick that should be worth about $38.5 million. Draft picks don’t get any promises in regard to what might happen with coaches, staff members, teammates, whatever.

We’ve been over this issue but it’s been a few months. This was a hot topic back in January, and what’s noteworthy is the Bears didn’t rush into anything. As you recall, they met for a couple of days at the end of the season before deciding who would return and who wouldn’t. It would not have been surprising if they had opted for an offensive-minded head coach, but Ryan Poles liked the way Eberflus kept the team together after a miserable start last season and how the defense got progressively better as the year went on. There was growth and development by younger players.

Will there be pressure on Eberflus and his staff entering this season? Sure. There isn’t a gig in the NFL that doesn’t come with pressure. I’d also point out the overwhelming majority of questions regarding firings overlook the reality that it’s really hard to get the next hire right. That’s why we see the carousel for head coaches, coordinators and position coaches spinning annually.

In Drew Brees’ prime, announcers harped on about how the Saints prioritized the interior of their offensive line due to Brees’ height. If that was legitimately true (and not a talking point to fill time), should the Bears prioritize trading back for the great G/C prospects to offset Caleb Williams’ height? — Ryan W.

That’s a good question because, according to the combine measurements, Williams is only one-eighth of an inch taller than the 6-1 Brees was when he came out of Purdue. However, you should consider that we’re talking about different players. Brees was short for the position and was not particularly mobile. Williams is just a shade taller but he’s able to reset in the pocket, elude rushers, create plays on the move and, when needed, tuck the ball and run. Because they are different athletically, I don’t think you can just look at measurements and apply the same thinking.

You’re right that the Saints put an emphasis on being strong from guard to guard to allow Brees to find throwing windows. That’s something former Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer talked about when he came from New Orleans. It was an interesting strategy and the Saints did a nice job of it, but it’s not like that initiative came at the expense of locating high-caliber tackles. You still have to be elite on the edges.

The Bears have done some work on offensive linemen who are unlikely to be in play at No. 9, and one who jumps out is West Virginia center Zach Frazier. He might be the best at the position in this class and is probably a late first-round pick or early Day 2 selection. So I’d imagine he’s in discussions in scenarios where the team trades the ninth pick Thursday.

What has been the best Bears’ draft pick over the last decade? — Dylan J., Peoria

That’s another open-ended question and you could make a good case for a handful of players. Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson has a chance to be a really impactful player as a second-round pick a year ago, but it’s too early to tell what his career arc will look like. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson, a second-round pick in 2020, belongs in this conversation. Free safety Eddie Jackson was a fourth-round selection in 2017 and had a really strong career for the Bears.

If I had to pick one right now, I’d probably go with recently retired left tackle Charles Leno, a seventh-round pick by GM Phil Emery in 2014. The 246th pick that year, Leno made 141 career starts and 94 were with the Bears. He was added to the Pro Bowl roster in 2018, and while Leno was never an elite talent, the Bears got solid play out of him for a long time without ever having to pay him top money at the position.

What’s absent is a lot of picks at the top of the draft where you look back and say, “That was a home run.” Linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth pick in 2018, remains fantastic. You should get that with some kind of regularity when you’re picking that high. That’s why it’s imperative the Bears come out of this draft with a special talent at No. 9 or after a slight trade down.

If the Bears draft one of the top three receivers, could three alpha receivers be content with a rookie quarterback? — Bobby D., Arizona

Fair question. My first reaction is it’s not about the experience of the quarterback but the performance. If a 10-year veteran is stinking it up, things won’t be peachy for three alpha receivers just because the quarterback has some experience.

DJ Moore proved to be a total pro last season, especially at the beginning of the year when he inexplicably wasn’t getting the ball. He didn’t have any history I’m aware of for complaining about subpar QB play when he was with the Carolina Panthers, and there was a lot of that going on. Keenan Allen is entering a contract year so I doubt he’s going to create waves, but I don’t have any insight into his locker-room demeanor. A rookie needs to find his way. I don’t believe this would be a concern for Ryan Poles if he uses the ninth pick on a wide receiver.

In fact, I’d probably flip this around and turn it into a positive. What better situation for a rookie quarterback? Moore, Allen and a top-three receiver in this draft class would put a rookie quarterback in a tremendous position to learn and succeed.

There have been numerous scenarios for what the Bears will do with their ninth pick. Rarely, if ever, do I see a scenario similar to what worked so well for them last year: receiving a player (DJ Moore) as part of a draft trade. Any chance the Bears might find a draft partner several selections down who might be willing to part with a talented player at a key position — perhaps from a cap-strapped team — to move up in the draft? If so, what might such a scenario look like? — Jim A., Plymouth, Minn.

In your scenario, which I believe is highly unlikely, you trade the uncertainty of how a draft pick will develop and perform in return for a player with a high salary-cap number. Keep making moves like this (trading for Moore, trading for Montez Sweat, trading for a player in your scenario, spending in free agency) and you’re going to run into cap issues and before long have an aging roster. The Bears need to trust in their scouting department, believe in their player development program and select a rookie who can flourish for them while benefiting from a cost-controlled four-year contract that will include a fifth-year option.

When does DJ Moore get a contract extension? And do you think Keenan Allen gets an extension before the season? — rtindenverco

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That’s hard to forecast and the team will keep any contract talks super buttoned up. It was pretty clear the Bears’ first priority last offseason was getting a new deal done with tight end Cole Kmet, and that process stretched out over a few months. Attention has rightfully been on free agency and the draft, and there’s no rush to get something done with Moore, who has two years remaining on the contract the Bears inherited when they acquired him in a trade from the Carolina Panthers. My guess — and this is just a hunch — is that topic could be introduced later this spring or this summer. Does that mean something will get done? I have no guess on that. It takes two sides to hammer out a deal and you never know how things will go.

As far as Allen, the Bears picked up a player with an outstanding track record who is coming off an elite season. That being said, I don’t understand why there would be any urgency to consider a new contract for him at this point. Allen turns 32 on Saturday and will be entering his 12th NFL season. He did not slow down in 2023 but he will before long. I wouldn’t rule out Allen being with the Bears beyond this season, but we have to see if they draft a wide receiver in Round 1 and how Allen plays this season. Allen might not be in a rush either.

Ryan Poles and the front office could feel differently, but as methodical as the Bears have been with some of their cash/cap decisions, you have to expect they would carefully weigh a big investment in a player of Allen’s age and experience, especially when they’re going to be paying Moore a lot.

There are so many mock drafts on the sports websites, newspapers, podcasts, etc., and each seem to stretch credulity to get clicks. Aside from the Bears not taking Caleb Williams, what’s the silliest mock draft selection you’ve seen this year? — @caljestice

It will be easy to call them all silly by the time the dust settles Thursday night and Round 1 is in the books. An incredible mock draft will nail five or six picks. Between the unpredictability of trades and not fully knowing how teams weigh the character of individual prospects or how they delineate between needs/wants and draft grades, it’s a crap shoot. Throw in medical information and, well, we’re all guessing.

The most amusing stuff I saw this year was silly-season mocks by wishcasters in which the Bears opted to build around Justin Fields with their draft capital. Here’s another chance for you to mock my final mock draft.