The 2021 regular season will soon enter its final week, and for a Chicago Bears team that’s already been eliminated from the playoffs, it means one more game until the offseason officially begins. And while free agency doesn’t officially kick off until March 16, it’s a worthwhile exercise to review which players will be potential targets for the Bears. Chicago is expected to be in or around the top 10 in available money to spend with the current estimated figure hovering around $45 million. It’s an amount that may be a bit inflated considering only 26 players will be under contract at season’s end, but it will allow whoever is the team’s general manager to make a splash signing or two that will help expedite a return to relevance. We’ll start by looking at some potential wide receivers the Bears could pursue, considering only Darnell Mooney is locked in for a 2022 roster spot at this point. With Allen Robinson scheduled for unrestricted free agency and players like Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd in Chicago on one-year deals, the Bears will have an opportunity to rebuild a critical position group as they center their strategy around quarterback Justin Fields. Unfortunately, two of the top free-agents-to-be have both been struck by devastating injuries. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin and Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup each suffered torn ACLs in recent weeks, leaving their 2022 seasons in question. While both players will likely be fully recovered at some point next season, they could come along with prohibitive price tags for a team like the Bears that’s looking for immediate and healthy starters. Perhaps their injuries will force them into one-year prove-it deals, which might be worth exploring. But at this point, the Bears should focus their attention on other options who’d serve as nice complementary pieces to Mooney. An obvious name, and arguably the top overall free agent, is Green Bay Packers star Davante Adams. According to Spotrac, Adams’expected contract could be in the range of five years, $133 million ($26.5 million per season). And while Adams’ run of production over the last few seasons warrants a payday like that, I’m not sure he fits what the Bears need at this point. First, he’s had Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball in all of his Pro Bowl seasons—while Adams is no doubt one of the best pure wideouts in the game, you can’t deny his numbers are a bit inflated by his quarterback. Second, he turns 30 years old next season, and while that isn’t ancient for a wide receiver, it feels like by the time the Bears are ready to make their run, Adams will be at the end of his. Still, no one would argue Adams being a huge (HUGE!) get for a Bears offense focused on giving Fields touchdown-scoring playmakers. A more realistic target for Chicago is a player like Los Angeles Chargers wideout Mike Williams. He just turned 27 and, per Spotrac, has a market value of around $16.3 million per season. Sure, he has a long history of injuries since being the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he’s having the best season of his career in 2021 and, if the injuries are behind him, has the kind of upside to consistently be one of the 10 best wide receivers in the league. Plus, his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame is exactly the kind of power forward the Bears need in the passing game alongside Mooney. Williams is younger and could cost about $10 million per season less than Adams—seems like he’d be a really logical option. Another injured but high-upside wide receiver the Bears could target is D.J. Chark, the quality playmaker of the Jacksonville Jaguars who suffered an ankle injury in Week 4. Unlike Godwin and Gallup, Chark’s injury occurred early enough in the season to reasonably expect a full recovery by training camp. Chark offers the kind of size Chicago should pursue—6-foot-4, 200 pounds—and at 25 years old, is just entering the prime of his career. Spotrac has his expected market value at around $12 million per season, which even if it goes up a bit from there, is still within the range that Chicago’s likely to spend on the position. The theme of injured free agent pass-catchers continues with JuJu Smith-Schuster, who took less money to stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers last offseason in a gamble that’s backfired. Smith-Schuster suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after just five games this year and will enter free agency likely being forced to take another one-year, prove-it deal. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be offered more than the $8 million Pittsburgh signed him to last year, and since his injury—while serious—isn’t to the lower body, it’s fair to think he’ll be as effective as he’s always been next year. He’s only 25 years old; his ceiling remains high. Chark and Smith-Schuster aren’t the only appealing 25-year-old soon-to-be free agents, as Arizona Cardinals pass-catcher Christian Kirk is enjoying a career year on the verge of hitting the open market. Kirk has been Kyler Murray’s most consistent target in 2021 but his physical profile—5-foot-11, 200 pounds—may not be exactly what the Bears are looking for. Still, with Mooney being the only receiver on the roster, Chicago can go in a variety of directions at the position this offseason. Kirk, along with Mooney and a bigger-bodied option, would be one heck of an upgrade over this year’s lineup. The bottom line is this: the Bears have no excuses this offseason. There are more than enough quality wide receivers on the open market who represent upgrades for this team. They have more than enough money to sign one (or two). A failure to do so will be an epic disappointment for a franchise that’s entering its first full year with Fields at quarterback, who, by the way, will attract free agents to Chicago. The Bears’ headline-grabbing news will come in about one week when the team officially announces Matt Nagy’s termination, and maybe Ryan Pace’s too. The search for the next head coach will be the lede, but don’t lose sight of that important stretch of two or three days in March, when the biggest impact on 2022 can be made with a stroke of the pen. No general manager or coach can overcome a lack of talent, so it’s on Chicago to make sure they level up at wideout in free agency.
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