Bears Insider

Bears' P.J. Walker, Alex Leatherwood decisions tell us something valuable about GM Ryan Poles

Both P.J. Walker and Alex Leatherwood had guaranteed money left on their deals, but that didn't stop general manager Ryan Poles from prioritizing on-field performance when building a roster

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Every NFL general manager misses. Whether in free agency, the draft, or on the waiver wire, no one bats 1.000.

Teams often get in trouble when they compound those mistakes, electing to hold onto the player they whiffed on either out of stubborn arrogance or allegiance to the checkbook.

With two moves, Bears general manager Ryan Poles showed he has no problem taking his losses and moving on. By releasing quarterback P.J. Walker and waiving offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, Poles showed that he won't keep subpar players just because they are owed guaranteed money. He'll prioritize on-field performance over dollars and cents when building the best 53-man roster.

When they signed him in March, the Bears guaranteed Walker just over $2 million. They took a swing on Leatherwood last September, claiming him and his first-round contract after the Las Vegas Raiders waived him. If Leatherwood goes unclaimed on waivers, the Bears are still on the hook for $4.59 million.

Poles took a swing on Leatherwood, a first-round pick the Bears thought could reach his ceiling after some rebuilding work. They moved him all around the offensive line, but the results never materialized. The experiment failed, and the Bears were right to cut bait and move on after Leatherwood showed minimal signs of growth after landing at left guard this offseason.

The Bears signed Walker because they wanted a veteran presence in the quarterback room who also had a similar skillet to starting quarterback Justin Fields. After having to transition from Fields to Trevor Siemian last year, the Bears wanted a backup that wouldn't force them to change their offensive philosophy as much should Fields go down.

But Walker was horrid in training camp. Undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent had a more consistent camp, electrified during the Bears' second preseason game, and "created" a competition for the backup quarterback spot that the Bears didn't see coming.

Walker opened that door with his poor play, and Bagent kicked it off the hinges by proving he belonged during the final two weeks of the preseason.

Bagent was undoubtedly the second-best quarterback in camp. The only reason to keep Walker was the guaranteed money attached to his name.

Poles smartly elected to cut Walker and eat the money, knowing that Walker's spot is needed elsewhere on the roster.

To be fair, these were a mistakes of Poles' own making. But he should at least be commended for finding the eject button as soon as possible.

That's how winning organizations tend to operate.

Take Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, for example.

Roseman signed quarterback Carson Wentz to a massive four-year extension in the summer of 2019. But by the end of that season, Roseman saw that Wentz, both in on-field performance and locker room fit, might not be the franchise quarterback the Eagles hoped. Roseman drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft and traded Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts the following offseason.

That's a significant loss; you need cache and job security to eat that as a general manager. Wentz's $33.82 million dead cap hit was a tough pill for the Eagles to swallow, but it was far better than the alternative of keeping Wentz around to be either an expensive backup or compete with Hurts and hamper his development.

Roseman recognized his miss, took the loss, and set the Eagles back on a path to contention.

That's an extreme example, but it illustrates how the winning franchises operate.

Poles took a chance on Leatherwood and Walker. Both were understandable gambles, but neither paid off. Instead of doubling down on his initial evaluation/belief, Poles washed his hands of both players because that's what is best for the Bears.

We're still learning how Poles will operate as a general manager and roster builder, but Sunday's decisions at least give us a glimpse into his core beliefs and his willingness to put ego aside and make the right choices -- guaranteed money be damned.

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