We’ve heard it all offseason. The Chicago Bears are in great shape with the number one pick in the draft and $100 million to spend in free agency. They are inevitably going to add several talented players to the roster this offseason. I’ve called this the most important offseason in the history of the franchise (tell me another one if you disagree).
For many of the position groups, it’s pretty straightforward how they should address them. But for wide receiver, it’s far more complicated. Let’s take a look at what needs to be done at this position.
First of all, I am going to be hard-pressed to imagine the Bears handing out more than two large contracts to wide receivers. Assuming Justin Fields emerges as the Bears QB of the future (if he hasn’t already), that means Fields is going to get a large contract extension as early as 2024. With that in mind, I just can’t see them committing money to three wide receivers, especially when you consider that Cole Kmet is almost certainly going to see a contract worth about $14 or $15 million per year coming up this offseason.
With that in mind, how should the Bears address the position? There are three players on the current roster that can potentially impact this decision.
First is Velus Jones. Jones was disappointing in his first year with the team and certainly doesn’t seem headed to an early contract extension (he would be eligible after the 2024 season) so at this point, we can look at Jones as a rookie deal and any production you get out of him offensively is a bonus. He won’t be a free agent until March of 2026, so they can put him aside and not worry about his finances.
Second, we have Darnell Mooney. We know Mooney is a favorite target of Fields and they continue to seem destined to remain teammates. It would seem that Mooney is headed to an extension this offseason as well, but it’ll be curious as to what he and the Bears settle on in terms of finances. If Mooney had a big year in 2022, he could have pushed past $20 million a year. But with an injury and a pretty anemic passing attack, Mooney’s numbers struggled. Can the Bears and Mooney settle on something closer to the $14 or $15 million per year that Kmet will get? Or will Mooney push to get closer to $20 million a year. What kind of deal Mooney and the Bears strike will definitely have an impact as to how to address this position.
Finally, we have Chase Claypool. We all know how poorly he played in 2022. But the bottom line here is that Poles paid the price of the 32nd pick in the draft for Claypool. That’s a lot of draft capital for him. There is no chance that they just let Claypool settle in at WR3 or WR4 on this team and use him lightly and let him walk. When you pay that kind of price, you are going to give him every opportunity to succeed with your franchise so you can keep him around. If Claypool plays well enough to receive an extension, Poles can far better justify the price he paid for him. But if Claypool is pushed aside and walks after this year, the price he paid for him will be beyond egregious.
So where are we at? We’ve paid Darnell Mooney, and we are giving Chase Claypool an opportunity to succeed. If that’s the case, would the Bears pay a wide receiver this year knowing they may have to pay a third receiver in Claypool a year later? That may not happen.
Jakobi Meyers was considered an excellent value by many, but with a weak group of free agent wide receivers, his contract could swell up towards $20 million a year. Don’t believe me? See Kirk, Christian. I would thoroughly dislike the idea of bringing in Mecole Hardman, but if they do, they may just be adding more bodies to the group without much substance.
I think many Bears fans are expecting a receiver signed in free agency, but when looking at how the position group shakes out, that may not really be an option for the Bears.
Could the Bears strike a deal for Michael Pittman or Tee Higgins (I don’t believe Duke Tobin saying he isn’t going anywhere)? If they did that, would they forego extending Mooney this offseason and pit Mooney and Claypool against each other where the winner gets extended before they become a free agent in 2024?
There’s the obvious route to go, and that’s the NFL draft. There are plenty of guys that will be available in the mid-first to second rounds that could step in on day one and help the Bears. So when Poles trades down, if he can stockpile picks in that range, using a pick on a receiver would be wise. But waiting until the draft would mean potentially not adding a significant target for Fields to throw to during free agency, and that’s another massive risk for this team.
The perfect scenario is the Bears landing someone like Pittman via trade and drafting a receiver on day one or day two of the draft (preferably before round three). That would give them Mooney, Claypool, Pittman, a top rookie and Jones. That’s a group you can feel pretty good about.
But if you don’t acquire a solid target prior to the draft, there’s always a chance that the board doesn’t break your way and you don’t end up with the receiver you want. In that case, maybe you end up landing a day three receiver that may not be able to contribute right away. If you end up with a group of Mooney, Claypool, Jones and a day 3 rookie, that’s not going to get the job done for Fields.
How Poles addressing this position is going to be a fascinating thing to watch over the next two months. He can’t throw too many resources at it, but he certainly can’t ignore it either, and finding the middle ground where you’ve solidified it but haven’t spent too much cap space or draft capital on the group will also be a challenge.
It’s your move, Ryan Poles, and we’re all watching.