Veteran WR Options to Help Justin Fields, Desperate Bears

Brent SobleskiAugust 11, 2022

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When Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields drops back to pass this season, he'll be throwing to...

Wait, there's...

Um, what about...

Who's that again?

No one really knows, which is a problem. A big problem. The Bears must add to their wide receiver room, especially after the injury to N'Keal Harry.

NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported Harry underwent tightrope ankle surgery Thursday, which will likely cost him eight weeks. Harry isn't a proven commodity after being traded by the New England Patriots because he was a first-round disappointment, but he at least presented depth and some potential.

Darnell Mooney is an excellent, young target. The 24-year-old is coming off his first 1,000-yard campaign with the chance to build on a strong sophomore performance. But today's game is predicated on 11 personnel. Last season, teams had at least three wide receivers on the field for 62 percent of the league's total snaps, according to Sharp Football's Warren Sharp.

In what appears to be offseason malpractice, Chicago's new regime of first-time general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus didn't prioritize building the offense around their supposed franchise quarterback.

Instead, the team's top two draft picks addressed the secondary. The Bears passed on wide receivers Wan'Dale Robinson, Tyquan Thornton, George Pickens, Alec Pierce and Skyy Moore to draft cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker. In a vacuum, Poles drafted two quality players. At the same time, those receivers are all performing well during training camp and could provide instant offense to their respective teams.

The Bears waited until the third round to snag Velus Jones Jr., traded for Harry and signed Byron Pringle as a free agent. Even the latter move was overshadowed by the team's biggest offseason signing of defensive lineman Justin Jones. Pringle inked a one-year, $4.1 million prove-it deal. Besides, he's dealing with a quad injury and hasn't practiced this week.

Meanwhile, Fields is holding up his end of the bargain. According to reporter Jordan Schultz, the staff, including offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, have been "blown away" by their quarterback. A source told Schultz: "His mechanics have improved. He's in great shape. He works at it and he really cares. Luke loves him."

The quarterback may be showing drastic improvement, but it'll be for naught if he lacks the weapons to orchestrate the offense.

Opportunities still exist to improve Fields' surrounding cast. The Bears took this approach when they signed left tackle Riley Reiff and guard Michael Schofield at the start of training camp. They can do so again by bringing in a veteran wide receiver (or two) to provide a competent passing attack. Four possibilities jump to the forefront.

Odell Beckham Jr.

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Some may view the acquisition of a Odell Beckham Jr. as a pipe dream. Maybe it is. He's a veteran who likely wants to play for a winning franchise. But he has a Super Bowl ring after the Los Angeles Rams' run to a championship, and the Bears have three factors working in their favor: money, market and targets.

The Bears have one of the league's highest amounts of salary-cap space at $15.7 million, per Spotrac. Next year, Chicago owns a whopping $89.2 million in cap space—the most of any team by $40 million—before any further moves are made. Beckham can get the type of deal he wants after the Rams supposedly lowballed him earlier this year while giving the Bears a true No. 1 wide receiver.

Chicago remains the nation's third-biggest media market (after Beckham previously played in the top two) with a passionate fanbase.

Granted, Beckham won't be ready for the start of the regular season after suffering a torn ACL in Super Bowl LVI. However, the Bears can invest now. In doing so, they're guaranteeing a top target for Fields and someone who dictates coverages. A signing won't come cheap, but Chicago has the means to get it done and plenty of wiggle room to continue the rebuild into next offseason.

T.Y. Hilton

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Very little interest has surrounded T.Y. Hilton this offseason. The Indianapolis Colts continue to flirt with the idea of bringing back the player with the franchise's third-most receiving yards.

General manager Chris Ballard told reporters in March:

"T.Y. can still play. Unfortunately he got hurt for half the (2021) season, but T.Y. can still play. One, because he’s about as smart as any player I’ve ever been around. I mean he just understands how to play the game even though his skillset might not quite be the same that it was three or four years ago, his instincts and his level of competence in terms of understanding what’s happening, he knows how to play."

The 32-year-old began last season on injured reserve because of a neck injury. He returned to play in 10 games, though his production didn't reach his previous level. Some of the downturn may be due to wear and tear, but the Colts also relied more on the running game as the season progressed.

As Ballard stated, Hilton can still play. He'd be an ideal mentor to Mooney and a reliable option for Fields.

Cole Beasley

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If a security blanket is what the team wants, few are better than Cole Beasley when working out of the slot.

In each of the last three seasons, Beasley finished second on the Buffalo Bills in receptions. The organization chose to go younger at the position this year with Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder to man the inside receiver spot.

Beasley's announcement that he would not get vaccinated and fines for protocol violations during the COVID-19 pandemic may not have helped his case when the Bills chose to release the 33-year-old target.

But the league suspended COVID-19 protocols for the 2022 season, which likely makes Beasley's personal status inconsequential.

The 2020 second-team All-Pro brings a defined role to any offense. He's very capable of creating separation in small areas, though he's reached the point in his career where he won't add much after the catch. Even so, the ability to get open and consistently provide an available target is valuable, especially on a team that lacks options.

Will Fuller V

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Of those mentioned, Will Fuller V is the youngest at 28 years old with significant upside still remaining. Injuries have always been the bugaboo with the 2016 first-round draft pick.

Last season, the Miami Dolphins signed Fuller to a one-year, prove-it deal. He played in two games before breaking a thumb and being placed on injured reserve.

In Fuller's professional career, he has never played a full slate of games. He's missed 42 regular-season contests through six seasons.

Despite the risk—which exists with every free agent who's available at this juncture—the Bears could use Fuller as a vertical threat. His best season came in 2020 when he managed a career-best 879 receiving yards and led the Houston Texans with eight touchdown receptions. He also averaged 15.3 yards per catch between the 2017 and 2020 campaigns.

Fuller's signing wouldn't require a major investment, but he presents the most potential return on a minimal deal.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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