Darnell Mooney had a solid rookie season in 2020. A 61-catch, 631-yard, 4-touchdown year served as a launch point for an encore performance in 2021.
In his second year as a pro, Mooney put up 81 catches, 1,055 yards, and 4 more scores. Thousand-yard receiving seasons are nice on their own. But it is extra impressive when you realize Mooney came into his own while catching passes from Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, and Justin Fields. Not quite how receivers tend to establish themselves. And it definitely wasn’t an ideal work environment for a second-year player. How can you not tip your cap after having a breakout campaign in a season in which your head coach is on the hot seat, play-caller is hanging by a thread, and quarterbacks are swapping in-and-out due to a variety of circumstances?
Going into the 2022 season, Mooney is on the cusp of WR1 status. And we should all be excited about that, especially since he is growing along with Fields. On top of the on-field stuff that has us dreaming on a bright future, he is beginning to take on a leadership role, as well. Growth doesn’t come only in catches, yards, and touchdowns. Ultimately, if Mooney can continue that up-swing on all levels, perhaps something larger awaits him a year from now.
And by that, I mean that a huge honking payday awaits if Mooney proves last year was no fluke.
The Market Booms Now
News of Terry McLaurin’s pending extension in Washington is just the latest big-money deal to hit the NFL books. Once it becomes officially official, McLaurin will become the ninth receiver THIS OFFSEASON to sign a new deal that came with an annual average value of $20 million. McLaurin will join Tyreek Hill ($30M AAV), Davante Adams ($28M), Cooper Kupp ($26.7M), A.J. Brown ($25M), Stefon DIggs ($24M), D.J. Moore ($20.628M), Chris Godwin ($20M), and Mike Williams ($20M) in the big-money receiver club. Add Keenan Allen ($20.025M AAV) and Amari Cooper ($20M AAV) – who were able to secure that big of a bag in previous offseasons, and we’re looking at a grand total of 12 receivers in the $20M AAV club. Really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
And to think, that number figures to grow at any time before now and when this season begins. Remember, Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, and possibly Hollywood Brown are all due for extensions. And in the cases of Samuel, Metcalf, and Johnson, these are players who are up for extensions before their rookie contracts finish at the conclusion of the 2022 season. In other words, we could see as many as 16 receivers earning at least $20 million per season.
Is Mooney Next?
As a reminder, Mooney and the Bears can’t begin extension talks until the end of this season. Perhaps we could see something ironed out in early January 2023. Maybe something that resembles how the Bears locked Eddie Jackson into an extension shortly after his stellar third season in Chicago. It is a different regime, to be sure. And the receiver market is exploding in a way that is unprecedented for non-quarterbacks. But the blueprint is there should GM Ryan Poles want to check it out.
Can you imagine Mooney making his way into the conversation at this time next year? It doesn’t take a stretch of your imagination. If the Mooney-Fields bromance continues to blossom, the Bears would be wise to keep that tandem together. Even if Mooney takes off on his own, that might give more incentive to keep him as a building block. In any case, so long as the salary cap goes up, payrolls will follow. And that might be the most important thing to consider in forecasting a big-money Mooney extension. If players are earning more, it will continue raising the market. If Mooney has another 1,000-yard season, then he’ll be looking to get his slice of the pie. That’s just how this goes in the free agency era. Gaining admission into the $20M per year club isn’t a given, but it is more feasible than I would’ve previously thought.
Another 1,000-yard receiving season would make the start of a compelling case for Mooney to be among the next receivers to secure big-time extensions.But even then, it comes with caveats. Can Mooney take another jump after making a second-year leap? Will he be able to prove that his production isn’t rooted in being a high-volume player? Are his coaches getting him into a position to be the type of play-maker you’d be OK giving $20M AAV to moving forward? Is learning a new system going to slow him down early? Will quarterback play hold him back? There are so many questions that need answers before we fully bring ourselves to the idea of shelling out big money for Mooney. But current trends being what they are, I feel like it is something we should keep in our back pocket.