The Chicago Bears’ 2020 season was essentially four seasons wrapped into one. Early season highs, mid-season lows, a Mitchell Trubisky tour, and a humbling ending put things into perspective.
Looking ahead, the 2021 offseason could very well dictate the long-term future of the franchise. GM Ryan Pace enters the final year of his contract. He needs to prove he can find a quarterback and unearth offensive skill players. And Head Coach Matt Nagy has two seasons remaining on his deal. But he might not make it to next year if he can’t show that his offense can work. But before we cross those bridges, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into a pivotal offseason for the Bears franchise.
Today: Wide receiver
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
Darnell Mooney sits atop the list of returning receivers. Mooney’s 61 receptions in 2020 were the most ever for a Bears rookie receiver. It’s impressive when you think about Mooney breaking a record that stood for 66 years and was held by Harlon Hill, whose rookie season came in 1954. To be clear, Mooney still has work to do to get on Hill’s level (he made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons, earned two first-team All-Pro nominations, racked up 134 catches, gained 3,041 yards, and scored 32 touchdowns). So … get to work, Mooney!
Joining Mooney under contract is Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, and Anthony Miller. Each of those players is still on their rookie contracts. Rodney Adams, Jester Weah, Thomas Ives, and Reggie Davis are on futures contracts.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
In case you missed it, Allen Robinson is a free-agent-to-be. Robinson, 27, has led the Bears in catches and receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. In the last two years, Robinson has collected 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Oh … and he snagged 100 catches for the first time in his career in 2020. In other words, it’s mind-numbing to think about how the Bears haven’t given him a worthwhile contract extension to this point. We’ve only been talking about it since November 1999.
Joining Robinson among the free-agent-to-be receivers is Cordarelle Patterson. In addition to being a receiver by trade, Patterson was also a contributor as a running back and All-Pro kick returner. On top of that, Patterson served as the Bears’ Director of Recruiting. His recent reaching out to Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson – as he approaches free agency himself – shouldn’t go unnoticed.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
The Bears were displeased with Anthony Miller‘s postseason ejection. And when Chairman George McCaskey addressed that situation during his season-ending press conference, it felt like he was sending a message. So much so, there’s a non-zero chance Miller gets cut to make a point. If the Bears went that route, they could create $1,210,050 in cap space. And if the team was disappointed in the development of Javon Wims ($920,000) or Riley Ridley ($679,351), it could clear additional space. It isn’t much, but it’s not nothing. And that neither comes with a sizable dead money hit (Miller’s is $493,400, Wims’ $23,978, Ridley’s is just $341,298), it wouldn’t be fiscally problematic to cut either or all of the aforementioned pass-catchers.
Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com
Everything you need to know about Robinson, the Bears, and the Franchise Tag is here:
What are the Bears options? Robinson’s? https://t.co/sP0GlRDCbq
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) February 13, 2021
The Bears blew their chance to extend Robinson at this time last year, and have fumbled the bag ever since. Nevertheless, word is the team is prepared to tag Robinson in an effort to continue working on an extension. I suppose using a tag as a vehicle to trade Robinson is possible, although those deals don’t happen too often.
Chicago has until March 9 to tag Robinson. Before that deadline comes around, the Bears are likely to try (again) to sign him to an extension.
THE FREE AGENT MARKET INCLUDES…
⇒ Corey Davis
⇒ Will Fuller
⇒ Chris Godwin
⇒ Kenny Golladay
⇒ Marvin Jones
⇒ Curtis Samuel
⇒ JuJu Smith-Schuster
SEVEN DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PROSPECTS
⇒ Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
⇒ Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois
⇒ Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
⇒ Rondale Moore, Purdue
⇒ Amari Rodgers, Clemson
⇒ Kadarius Toney, Florida
⇒ Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Brett’s write-up highlighting the depth at receiver this offseason is worth reading.
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
It starts with retaining Robinson. Other than fixing the quarterback position with a real upgrade, bringing back the team’s leading receiver is the top priority. That Robinson is a respected locker-room presence and excellent off-the-field adds to the list of reasons to re-sign him. But whether it’s an extension or playing on the tag, Robinson’s return should be just the beginning.
The best offenses have a variety of pass-catchers. And with that in mind, the Bears need to pursue all sorts of possible upgrades this offseason. They need to look into players with different body types, skill sets, and strengths when rebuilding the receivers room. But more than anything, Chicago needs to add speed, speed, and more speed. Whether it’s in terms of a slot receiver, someone who can line up outside, or someone else down the depth chart, the Bears need to bulk up with speedsters who can create mismatch nightmares for opposing secondaries. Thankfully, free agency and the NFL Draft should feature no shortage of options.
Ideally, having Mooney and Robinson is a strong starting point. Building from there will only help whomever happens to be the next QB.