With the new front office in place and the Super Bowl just days away, it’s time to focus on how first-year GM Ryan Poles can transform the Bears roster into something that looks competitive, at least on paper. After his introductory press conference, Poles said that he will begin that transformation by prioritizing what he believes are core the position groups (quarterback, tackles, pass rush, corners, three-down linebackers, and free safety).
Poles can check the quarterback box off with Justin Fields in the fold. And there are a handful of players that you can quickly identify as fits among the other core position groups. Still, there’s another pressing – perhaps the most pressing – position group that will have to be revamped immediately if the Bears want to provide Justin Fields with the best chance at success in year two, and that’s the wide receiver’s room.
The Bears wideouts were among the worst in football last season, with only Darnell Mooney cracking PFF’s top-50 wide receivers from the 2021 season with a 74.7 grade. But outside of Mooney, it’s pretty grim.
Allen Robinson was bad in 2021, and he’s all but gone after playing on the franchise tag last season. Marquise Goodwin was in Chicago on a one-year deal, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be back after he underperformed last season. Damiere Byrd played the 2021 season on a one-year deal. While his playing time the first half of the season was nearly non-existent, Byrd might have earned himself another look next season by catching 22 passes (33 targets) for 300 yards and a touchdown over the final eight games of the season, all the while doing so with a weekly rotating carousel of quarterbacks down the stretch. So what’s the solution?
In Adam Jahns’ recent mailbag over at The Athletic, the veteran Bears scribe listed wide receiver as the position of priority in free agency, noting that the Bears attention will likely zero in on the second and third tiers of free agency:
“Be selective in free agency. (It’s) really attacking that second and third wave of free agency, where you can get good value, and the beautiful thing is you get players that are highly motivated in that area. I think we could all agree if you get thrown $100 million, it takes a special human to show up in a physical game and put the work in to be great. So there’s a ton of value there.”
With these two things in mind – 1) the top priority in free agency should be the wide receiver position and 2) that need will likely be addressed in the “second and third wave of free agency” – let’s take a look at a few names to watch for the Bears at wide receiver this offseason.
• PFF WR Free Agent Rank: 5
• PFF Projected Contract: 4 years, $68M ($17M AAV)
Michael Gallup missed most of the 2021 season with various injuries, including an ACL injury that ended his season in Week 17. Still, in the nine games that Gallup did play for the Cowboys, he caught 35 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns in a very crowded wide receiver group in Dallas that included Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. When healthy, Gallup has produced for the Cowboys, catching 125 passes for 1,950 yards (15.6 Y/R) and 11 touchdowns during the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
MICHAEL GALLUP, ARE YOU KIDDING?!😱
— PFF (@PFF) October 11, 2020
But, the big question is, what will Gallup’s availability look like in 2022? The general timeline for an ACL recovery is anywhere from 8-12 months. Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reported last week that Gallup is yet to have the surgery to repair his torn ACL. According to Gehlken, the surgery is scheduled for today. That means that Gallup could be sidelined through much of the 2022 season.
Gallup’s talent warrants exploring a deal, but is Ryan Poles willing to roll the dice on what Gallup will be when he completes his recovery, and equally as important, is he willing to give him a deal in the ballpark of four years, $68 million knowing that he won’t see him suit up until late 2022 or possibly even 2023?
• PFF Free Agent Rank: 13
• PFF Projected Contract: 3 years, $25M ($8.3M AAV)
Bears fans have flirted with the dream of luring Luke Getsy’s former No. 1 wide receiver in Green Bay, Davante Adams, but let’s get this out of the way right now — Davante Adams is not coming to Chicago.
With that being said, the Bears could (and should) take a look at another Green Bay wide receiver witch which new OC Luke Getsy is very familiar: Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling could be a perfect receiver for Justin Fields. At 6-foot-5, with a 4.37 forty-yard dash, MVS is a big, speedy deep threat for Fields, who throws a very accurate deep ball. Valdes-Scantling’s 18.3-yard average depth of target ranking third-highest among wide receivers over the past two seasons.
MVS was limited to just 11 games in 2021, but he still caught 26 passes for 430 yards (16.5 Y/C) and three touchdowns. In 2020 MVS caught 33 passes for 690 yards (20.9 Y/C) and six touchdowns. Check out that 20.9 yards per catch! Talk about stretching the field. In 59 career games, MVS has 33 receptions of over 20 yards and 18 receptions of over 40 yards and averages 17.5 Y/C over that span.
Drops have plagued MVS in his early years in Green Bay, but if the Bears are looking for a reasonably priced receiver who can stretch the field in a way that fits perfectly with their young quarterback, then MVS should be high on their list of targets.
Aaron Rodgers is on a mission. 45-yard TD to Marquez Valdes-Scantling with time running out in the first-half. That's two TD passes in a span of 24 seconds for Rodgers. pic.twitter.com/vrE7ajMXWq
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 13, 2020
D.J. Chark Jr.
• PFF Free Agent Rank: 10
• PFF Projected Contract: 3 years, $25M ($8.3M AAV)
Chark, much like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, is a big (6-foot-4) wide receiver with burner speed (4.3-second 40-yard dash) who can stretch the field for the Bears. Chark went down with an ankle injury in Week 4 and never returned to Jacksonville’s disastrous situation under Urban Meyer.
Over the two seasons prior, Chark caught a combined 126 passes for 1,714 yards and 13 touchdowns in 28 games, with Gardner Minshew as his quarterback for the majority of that time. Can you imagine what Chark could do with a quarterback as talented as Justin Fields throwing him the ball all season? I would sure like to find out, especially if the price tag is near the PFF projection of $8.3M AAV.
• PFF Free Agent Rank: 9
• PFF Projected Contract: 3 years, $35M ($11.6M AAV)
Christian Kirk spent most of his snaps in 2021 lined up in the slot for a Cardinals team that featured DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green on the outside, and Kirk caught 77 passes for 982 yards and five touchdowns. Kirk’s 11.54 average depth of reception ranked 12th among receivers with 100 targets, and Kirk racked up 259 yards after the catch for Arizona’s offense in 2021. Kirk checks some boxes, but he’ll cost the Bears.
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 20, 2020
Will Fuller V
• PFF Free Agent Rank: 14
• PFF Projected Contract: 1 year, $10M
Will Fuller is immensely talented, but he’s been struggled to stay on the field for much of the past two seasons. During the 2020 season, Fuller had a solid campaign with career highs in catches (53), yards (879), and touchdowns (8) through 11 games as the primary target in Houston with DeAndre Hopkins departed for Arizona. Unfortunately, Fuller’s season ended in November prematurely after being suspended for six games due to a failed PED test.
Fuller took a one-year flier in Miami this past season and spent most of the season on the IR, so it’ll likely be a one-year deal for Fuller again as he tries to rebuild his stock. Fuller could be an affordable and productive bridge for the Bears at wide receiver if he’s healthy.