Earlier in the week, the Arizona Cardinals announced the hiring of Monti Ossenfort as their new general manager. Cunningham had interviewed with the Cardinals before Ossenfort’s hiring. And earlier today, the Tennessee Titans made their hiring of Ran Carthon as the team’s GM officially official.
The game of musical chairs for NFL general managers has come to an end. Unfortunately, Chicago Bears Assistant GM Ian Cunningham left standing without a chair to fill.
That is a bummer for Cunningham, a fast-rising executive who was popular on the interview circuit this time around. But on the other hand, this is wonderful news for the Bears. That is because — unless he takes a GM gig that unexpectedly opens between now and the start of the new league year — Cunningham is set to return to the Bears for 2023. And from a purely Bears perspective, I want to put on a party hat and celebrate. This is a welcome bit of news. Cunningham’s return means the Bears are keeping continuity at the top. GM Ryan Poles keeps his right-hand man at his side. I’d say this is an important development as the Poles-Cunningham tandem embarks on this offseason’s journey. Heck, it might be the most important offseason they might ever have.
Poles is the top dawg, to be sure. But having a sidekick like Cunningham to help in the process feels important. Several NFL franchises thought highly enough to interview Cunningham for their own GM vacancies. So it’s almost as if the Bears have two general managers leading their front office right now. Again, Poles is *THE* decision-maker at the top. However, it can’t hurt to have another highly thought-of talent evaluator helping Poles. We’ve seen these two work together in scouting future draft talent. Now, they’ll get a full offseason together. Cunningham didn’t get to jump in the big chair this year. However, there is a feeling that it is just a matter of time before he does. And perhaps he (and whichever team hires him in the future) will look back at his second year in Chicago as being beneficial to his development as an NFL executive.
If that proves to be the case and Cunningham gets a GM job next year, then it will turn out that his return was beneficial to the Bears’ organization.
Simply put, Chicago will receive a pair of compensatory third-round draft picks if Cunningham gets a GM job next offseason. That would not have been the case had he left this offseason. To clarify an NFL rule incentivizing the hiring of minority candidates, executives being hired away with promotions must be with the franchise for at least two years. The promotion aspect is why the Bears didn’t get anything for Champ Kelly’s departure to the Raiders last offseason. Plus, it also explains why Cunningham leaving this offseason wouldn’t have net the Bears any compensation. That would’ve stunk, but I would’ve been happy for Cunningham if someone gave him a promotion.
In the end, this is a big win for the Bears *AND* Cunningham. Poles and Cunningham have the first pick and more than $100 million in space under the cap in their pockets. If they spend wisely and hit on their draft picks, Cunningham will be hot stuff at this time next year. I’ll admit it’ll be tough to see him go. After all, quality front office guys don’t grow on trees in these parts. But at least he’ll have been a key cog in the Bears’ rebuild. And while also putting some more bulletpoints on his résumé. Talk about a potential win-win situation for all parties.