Earlier today, we learned that the Chicago Bears brought in running back/return specialist Benny Cunningham for a visit, and it must have gone well:
We have signed RB Benny Cunningham to a one-year contract.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) March 22, 2017
As we wrote earlier on Cunningham, who projects to figure more on special teams than in the back field:
Cunningham has spent the entirety of his four-year career in the Rams organization, which began in 2013 when he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State.
Much of Cunningham’s value has been tied to his contributions as a kick returner, where he has averaged 27.1 yards per return in his career. Cunningham has finished in the top-10 in return yards and average yards per return in each of the last three seasons. As far as return specialists go, he is a proven commodity despite not owning a splashy name.
The Bears already have a robust running back situation, so Cunningham might not be more than depth in that area for now.
Meanwhile, in another deal with return game implications, Deonte Thompson will get a chance to take back what once belonged completely to him:
— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) March 21, 2017
Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Chicago Bears are expected to re-sign kick returner/wide receiver Deonte Thompson. Thompson led the NFL with 35 kick returns in 2016, but averaged only 23 yards per return in his second season in Chicago. Things were better for Thompson in 2015, when he appeared in seven games with the Bears – but averaged 29.2 yards per kick return.
Further, Thompson averaged 27.8 yards per return from 2012 to 2015. That suggests either Thompson’s 2016 struggles were a fluke or a one-year outlier, or that the University of Florida product who will play in 2017 in his age 28 season could possibly be on the decline. Either way, he will get a shot at securing kick return duties in 2017, as well as possibly carve a niche among the Bears’ receiving corps.
Thompson set career highs in receptions (22), targets (36), and receiving yards (249) in a 2016 season which saw quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, and David Fales throw to a depleted group of receivers. The fourth-year pro also started six games and caught his first two touchdowns of his career.
Newcomers Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton will slot ahead of Thompson on the depth chart, as will returning receivers Cameron Meredith and Kevin White. Still, Thompson is expected to be among the players fighting for a dual role in 2017.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.