Chicago Bears trade the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft to the Carolinas Panthers. Here’s what they got in return. – The Mercury News

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles finally found the deal he was looking for.

The No. 1 pick the Bears collected for finishing last season with a 3-14 record now belongs to the Carolina Panthers. In a headline-grabbing trade Friday, Poles sent the top selection in April’s draft to GM Scott Fitterer in exchange for the No. 9 pick, the No. 61 pick, a first-round pick in 2024, a second-round pick in 2025 and wide receiver D.J. Moore, a source confirmed. ESPN and NFL Network first reported the news.

It had long been the Bears’ preference to trade the No. 1 pick instead of using it to draft a quarterback. Poles said multiple times since January that the Bears’ plan was to stick with quarterback Justin Fields, leaving only a small opening to change his mind if he was “blown away” by a quarterback prospect.

With the Bears staying with Fields, conversations on the trade front escalated when the league scouting combine began in late February. Poles vowed to remain in firm control of the situation, seeking a trade partner that could help maximize what the Bears squeezed out of the top pick while remaining mindful of how far they were willing to trade down.

Now the Bears have their haul and can begin recalibrating their draft board on the march to the start of Round 1 on April 27. And the Panthers, who are in need of a quarterback, have their top choice of prospects after jumping ahead of other quarterback-needy teams such as the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, who pick at Nos. 2 and 4. Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are among the possibilities for the Panthers.

It is the first time since 2016 and just the fifth time in the last 30 years that the No. 1 pick has been traded. All of those trades happened in April. But Poles hinted at the NFL combine last month that a trade before the free-agency negotiating window opens Monday would be beneficial, especially if a player was part of the return.

Moore gives the Bears an established wide receiver who has had three seasons of more than 1,100 yards receiving. Moore, 25, was a first-round draft pick in 2018 and had 364 catches for 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns over his first five seasons in the league.

Before last season, Moore signed a three-year, $61.9 million extension with the Panthers that keeps him under contract through 2025.

The addition is crucial for a Bears passing offense that was worst in the NFL last season with 130.5 yards per game.

Moore joins a Bears team with only one 1,000-yard receiver — Darnell Mooney, who is recovering from an ankle injury. The move gives Poles a new target for Fields without having to wade into a weak pool of free-agent receivers this year. The Bears also return Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown and Velus Jones Jr. to the receivers room.

The trade likely puts the Bears, in great need of defensive line help, out of range of drafting the top couple of defensive prospects, including Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. But if the Bears choose to remain at No. 9 and not move back again, they would make their highest pick since Roquan Smith at No. 8 in 2018. Smith was an All-Pro with the Baltimore Ravens in 2022 after Poles traded him midseason.

Friday’s trade was just the latest move in a busy and potentially landmark 2023 offseason for the Bears. Even after bottoming out in 2022, there has been great hope inside Halas Hall and within the fan base that the Bears could begin restocking their roster with high-end talent and depth given the resources they had to take into free agency and the draft.

The Bears now have 10 draft picks to go with a ton of salary-cap space — No. 9 in the first round, Nos. 53 and 61 in the second, No. 64 in the third, Nos. 103 and 133 in the fourth, Nos. 136 and 148 in the fifth and Nos. 218 and 258 in the seventh.

At the combine, Poles admitted he was excited to get to work.

“We have flexibility. We have opportunity,” he said. “I know our entire front office, our entire organization is pumped, just with the opportunity that we have to do something special.”

With the No. 1 pick traded away, it’s now Poles’ responsibility to turn the resources he got back into something meaningful. That process, of course, will continue with the draft.


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