For a second straight offseason, Bears assistant general manager Ian Cunningham is a hot commodity around the general manager circles.
Last offseason, he interviewed for the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals general manager openings. He made the final cut for both, but missed. Ron Carthon earned the job in Tennessee and Monti Ossenfort won the job in Arizona.
This offseason, he interviewed with the Los Angeles Chargers and the Washington Commanders for their respective general manager openings. And, again, Cunningham missed those. The Commanders hired Adam Smith on Jan. 15 and the Chargers brought on Joe Hortitz on Tuesday.
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If Cunningham returns to the Bears this offseason, it would greatly help general manager Ryan Poles. During the end-of-season press conference, Poles expressed his delight at Cunningham's reputation around the league.
“I want to produce as many GMs in this league as possible,” Poles said. “I think that’s a big thing.”
At the same time, Poles knows that if Cunningham departs, someone on his staff will have to backfill his role.
“Those are big shoes to fill in terms of helping run the front office and get things done in evaluating players,” Poles said. “That’s why development is so important to me in terms of our scouting assistants up to our area scouts. Make sure they’re developed so everyone can keep taking that step up.”
Cunningham joined Poles in January 2022 as Poles' right-hand man. Before then, he spent nearly five years with the Philadelphia Eagles, working his way up to Director of Player Personnel. Between his success under Eagles GM Howie Roseman and helping develop the Bears' roster, Cunningham has a strong résumé.
Poles and Cunningham have a strong relationship, illustrated once through a memorable episode of "1920 Football Drive," offered on the Bears YouTube channel. They've crossed paths several times before working together as former scouts for different teams.
"We had a very similar background and path and the position we played," Poles said of Cunningham. "We'd bump into each other on the road. I think it was like Oklahoma. We'd grab lunch and share thoughts. And there was just a connection there where we saw some things the same way philosophically."
Cunningham further depicted the two would meet up for runs on scouting trips. They connected and even "made a point" to meet up during an NFL combine. Cunningham is a strong confidant for Poles in the Bears' front office.
And his fingerprints are tied to the Bears' roster moves, which have been seemingly outstanding since Poles took over. They drafted Darnell Wright, traded the No. 1 pick for a haul including DJ Moore, signed T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds and even traded for Montez Sweat (while extending his contract, too) before the NFL trade deadline.
More important decisions are on the front office's plate this offseason, too. They've already solidified most, if not all, of their coaching staff behind newly appointed coordinators Shane Waldron and Eric Washington. They must figure out if they want to stay the course with Justin Fields or draft a quarterback in 2024 NFL draft --- which is another beast on its own. Plus, they have free agency, when they will have to decide if they will sign or franchise tag Jaylon Johnson.
There is plenty of work ahead for the Bears front office and if Cunningham is a part of it, it'll only help the Bears.