Column: How Chicago Bears aim to ‘find calm through chaos’ as they navigate NFL draft frenzy

Emotions are already at their peak. In NFL buildings, anxiety and anticipation hang out like classmates on final night exams. So much excitement swirling, so much adrenaline pumping.

The final weekend has finally arrived.

And soon it will be over. In a blink of an eye.

It’s what happens during a frenetic 47-hour period of picking and trading, strategizing and recalculating that gives personnel around the league that surge of energy.

Imagine the anticipation seeping through the second floor of Halas Hall and flooding into the Chicago Bears’ state-of-the-art draft room, where proceedings will be monitored this weekend.

This is. In the end. The chance, with a top-10 pick, to make a huge difference in getting a star for the show before going into Friday and Saturday with a calculated vision of how to bolster the depth chart on both sides of the ball.

Bears assistant general manager Ian Cunningham was asked this week to describe the excitement that comes with the project, which follows months of research, planning, discussion and debate. Then, suddenly, it was time.

“He’s trying to find some peace through the chaos,” Cunningham said. “Relax.”

That rush is real.

Mark Dominik, who spent five seasons as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ general manager and 12 as their director of pro scouting, called draft weekend “the most exciting part of the whole job.”

It’s almost intoxicating.

“Your mind is always clicking,” said Dominik, now an analyst for SiriusXM Radio. “It’s, ‘What’s next? What could I do? Should I go do something? You have that list of players that you might want to take or you have the reasons why you would trade money.”

A Kevin Costner fan, Dominik watched “Draft Day” after his GM days were over.

“In that whole movie, there was really only one thing that was real to me,” he said. “One of the things that happens on draft day and certainly on draft day is you have to get away from everybody, sit in a room and think.

“It’s a great moment. It’s a very quiet moment where you say to yourself, “OK. That’s what I think is the right move for this organization.”


Round 1 of the draft begins on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. If the Bears stay at No. 9, they’ll get the headliner of their 2023 class just after 8 p.m.

Months of preparation and research created a complicated array of possibilities for nearly every team and office. Look at it long enough and you will feel almost mesmerized – with hope, with curiosity, with wonder, with excitement.

For the Bears, what happens Thursday night will become the punctuation in an offseason, so many fans believe it can be a major turning point in the team’s championship chase. And the best news is no matter which path GM Ryan Poles takes, and no matter which player he picks in Round 1, he’ll be able to sell it like Gatorade to a wanderer in the desert.

The headliner of this Bears draft class — regardless of his name, position or school — will likely fill a significant need.

He will have a college highlight tape that will play on loop throughout the rest of the spring and summer.

He will have talents and traits that will be highlighted in a booklet where this journey is headed.

Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter? Yes, there are questions about his maturity and drive, and how much work it might take to turn him into a reliable pro over the next 10 years. But strictly as a football player, the guy is like a wrecking ball swinging out of the bottom of a fighter jet. You can’t find that amazing combination of speed and power anywhere.

Offensive lineman Peter Skoronski from Northwestern by way of Maine South High School? Approach? Guard? Guard or tackle? Does it really matter when most of the league agrees that Skoronski has all the talent, technique, intelligence and drive to be a standout rookie in the 2030s?

What about Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, who might have the best “HITS principle” tape of any prospect in the draft?

Or, heck, even Texas running back Bijan Robinson, whose biggest — and maybe only — flaw is that he plays a position that’s undervalued in the world of 2020s football.

The menu the Bears will be ordering Thursday night is impressive.


The point is that the Poles, Cunningham, coach Matt Eberflus and new team president Kevin Warren should have something wonderful to sell by the end of the night, able to effortlessly generate a massive wave of hope and excitement that they can ride deep into September or October.

That’s a lot of the big, big energy this week.

The stakes for the Bears this weekend are well set. Poles is in the most demanding stages of a listing overhaul that he likened last fall to a sprawling home improvement project.

Part of the next step involves taking a sober view of the building blocks and working to find upgrades for every reliever and “just okay” player on the roster.

That is why the Pole talks so often and insistently about this being “a long journey” and why he has repeatedly reminded himself that not everything will be arranged to his liking by the start of the 2023 season.

Still, there are major demands this weekend that accompany the excitement the Poles and his team of executives, scouts and coaches are feeling.

  • The Bears had the worst pass rush in the NFL last season, and their biggest move in free agency to jumpstart those efforts was signing DeMarcus Walker, a seventh-year journeyman who joined the fourth NFL teams with 19½ career sacks.
  • The Bears couldn’t stop the run last season either and still have a massive hole inside the defensive line. Opponents have amassed 4,080 total yards and 331 points during the Bears’ 10-game losing streak that will carry them into next fall.
  • The Bears are also looking for offensive line upgrades to help boost quarterback Justin Fields. And they wouldn’t mind finding some long-term contributors at receiver, cornerback, tight end or running back.

You get the point.

“Pressure is a privilege”

Everyone in the Bears front office understands the potential magnitude of this weekend’s proceedings and how high the expectations are – both inside and outside.

“I look at it as pressure is a privilege,” Cunningham said. “At least for us, you look at it as, ‘This is a draft.’ We are excited about it. But you’re just trying to stay in the moment.”

In their second offseason working together, Bears front office leaders believe there has been clearer communication in every phase of the pre-draft process, a natural byproduct of the strengthened relationships.

The visions of the coaching staff are clearer. The desired identity of the list is understood.

Now, the Bears must apply all of that amid this weekend’s tornado of excitement and anticipation.

Dominik emphasized the importance of setting plans and boundaries, especially for CEOs eager to dive into the business.

“If you’re thinking about making a move, you should know what your limit is the night before,” he said. “Because (on draft night) the adrenaline is pumping. Go. And you’re in the training room and you’re like, “OK, we’re going to go from 9 back to 6.” And you said to yourself, ‘I’m going to drop a (first round), a 3 and a 4.’

“But now it’s draft day and you’re like, ‘OK, I’m going to give up a 1, a 2 and a 3.’ Oh my. What happened to last night when you were calm and thinking clearly? Why did something change? He didn’t. You just have to send these thoughts.”

After the Bears make their first pick Thursday, there will be a flurry of hugs and hugs at Halas Hall, most of them caught on camera for the hype videos the team will put out on social media in the coming days and weeks. It will be a long-awaited and well-earned moment of celebration.

“But you have to keep setting the table,” Dominik said. “So when you pick No. 9, you don’t sit back and say, ‘Well, that’s it for today.’

“You have to constantly look at your roster and figure out exactly who is the player you might want to take and what you’d be willing to give up. Especially when you’re in a situation like Chicago where you could use two or three elite players to help build on what you’ve had so far.”

There is little time to waste, much activity and excitement to process, and so much to do.

As Cunningham said, the key will be to relax, find calm in the midst of the chaos, and take it all as a golden opportunity.


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