How the Bears Can Improve Their Wide Receiver Group Through the Trade Market

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2022

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 24: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Darius Slayton #86 of the New York Giants in action against the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium on October 24, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. New York Giants defeated the Carolina Panthers 25-3. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

We're still in the honeymoon stage of the NFL offseason—a time when optimism runs through team facilities with a fresh start in the minds of players and coaches.

Following the first waves of free agency, the Chicago Bears took a lot of criticism for their offseason plan, specifically for the offense. However, last week in an interview with Bleacher Report's Scott Polacek, quarterback Justin Fields highlighted his wide receiver unit as a group of unheralded playmakers.

"We don't have an Odell [Beckham Jr.] or a Cooper Kupp on our team, but at the end of the day I think if everybody is on their P's and Q's, and we're on top of everything and not making mistakes, the players we have right now are good enough. ... Just because we don't have a big-name guy, doesn't mean those guys aren't talented. I have plenty of confidence in myself and my teammates that we're going to get the job done."

Fields is absolutely right in one aspect. Aside from Darnell Mooney, the Bears' wide receiver room isn't going to grab headlines.

Chicago signed veteran wideouts Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis and David Moore. None of them have recorded 50 catches or 600 receiving yards in a single season. At best, they're all No. 3 options on any given roster.

The Bears selected Velus Jones Jr. in the third round of the 2022 draft. If he plays a decent role, the speedy Tennessee product could be dangerous in the open field and rack up yards after the catch. The rookie made a play on the practice field that caught Fields' attention.

"At rookie minicamp there was one play that stood out to me, he had a 10-yard dig route in and caught it and hit that second gear kick for a touchdown. I think he caught it at 10 yards and took it 60, so he's a great run-after-the-catch guy. He's going to pick up a lot of yards and is physical. He's almost like a running back at receiver. Having him on the outside and putting the ball in his hands and letting him work will be great."

While Jones' early impression sounds good, he only had one standout collegiate campaign as a pass-catcher through six years between USC (four) and Tennessee (two), registering 62 catches for 807 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021.

Bears QB Justin Fields
Bears QB Justin FieldsIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

If Fields isn't right about the hidden gems in his wide receiver group, he'll struggle to move the ball through the air, especially with two inexperienced second-year players projected to play at tackle in Larry Borom (eight starts) and Teven Jenkins (two starts). The Bears need a solid No. 2 option in the passing game to complement Mooney for a balanced attack.

As a second-year player in a leadership position, Fields isn't going to throw the front office under the bus or downplay the potential of his teammates. He said the right thing publicly, which is part of his job as a quarterback.

Even if the Bears strongly believe at least one wideout will emerge from a group that lacks leaguewide recognition, the front office should do its due diligence to help its young signal-caller.

Fortunately for the Bears, they can explore multiple options on the trade market. With a change of scenery, three players in particular could take advantage of new opportunities in the Windy City. Chicago can possibly land any of them with a middle- or late-round 2023 pick.

Giants WR Darius Slayton
Giants WR Darius SlaytonMichael Reaves/Getty Images

The Bears should make the first call to the New York Giants, who may have a former fifth-round standout on the outside looking in at a spot on the depth chart.

The Athletic's Dan Duggan believes Darius Slayton might have an uphill climb to make the 53-man cut.

"Don't be surprised if Slayton doesn't make the final roster if the Giants aren't able to find a trade partner and their cap situation remains tight," Duggan wrote.

After Big Blue selected Wan'Dale Robinson in the second round of the 2022 draft, Duggan doubled down on his take about Slayton.

"The Giants added Robinson in the second round to a position group that looks deep on paper but could be in a state of flux," Duggan wrote. "The odds of trading or cutting Slayton for $2.5 million in cap savings increased with the addition of Robinson."

As an underrated player out of Auburn, Slayton caught 98 passes for 1,491 yards and 11 touchdowns between 2019 and 2020. Last year, he saw a drop-off in target volume and production (26 receptions for 339 yards and two touchdowns) with the addition of Kenny Golladay, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal, and Kadarius Toney (2021 first-rounder).

The Bears should at least pick up the phone and gauge the asking price for Slayton, who posted WR2-level receiving numbers in his first two pro years.

Eagles WR Jalen Reagor
Eagles WR Jalen ReagorMitchell Leff/Getty Images

Staying in the NFC East, Chicago can inquire about Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor, who may fall to fourth on the depth chart.

On Day 1 of the 2022 draft, the Eagles acquired Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Brown and signed him to a four-year, $100 million extension. He'll line up opposite DeVonta Smith, who had a strong 2021 rookie campaign, hauling in 64 passes for 916 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, Quez Watkins made significant strides, primarily out of the slot, logging 43 receptions for 647 yards and a touchdown.

Through two campaigns, Reagor has registered pedestrian receiving numbers with just 64 catches for 695 yards and three touchdowns. He's unlikely to play up to his potential with Brown, Smith and Watkins healthy.

According to ESPN's Tim McManus, the Eagles will listen to offers for Reagor, and he could become an afterthought in the offense if the team doesn't move him.

"The Eagles are open to listening to offers for him, according to league sources," McManus wrote. "This feels like a situation where a change of scenery would be best for all sides. Even if he does return for the 2022 season, the Eagles won't be banking on Reagor as a primary option."

Eagles executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman doesn't "anticipate" a trade that involves Reagor—perhaps a fifth-round pick changes his mind, though.

Reagor has the draft pedigree (2020 first-rounder) that will likely allow him to get a second chance to catch on with a new team. He could see a lot of looks in the passing game with the Bears.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 18: Nelson Agholor #15 of the New England Patriots walks off the field in the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

With a third call on the trade market, the Bears should check in on Nelson Agholor, who's played on a Super Bowl team and finished with at least 736 receiving yards in three out of his last five seasons.

After an underwhelming 2021 campaign with then-rookie Mac Jones, catching 37 passes for 473 yards and three touchdowns, Agholor may drop a spot or two on the New England Patriots depth chart.

The Patriots acquired DeVante Parker from the Miami Dolphins and selected Tyquan Thornton in the second round of the draft.

The Bears should strongly consider a battle-tested veteran who can quickly establish a rapport with Fields as a reliable target. Nelson could aid the development of the two young wideouts expected to handle big roles in Mooney and Jones, too. In exchange for a late-round pick, Chicago may be able to snag a productive leader for an offense in transition, which is key for a rebuilding squad.

General manager Ryan Poles can believe in his offseason plan and still look to improve a wide receiver corps that only features one established playmaker. He doesn't have to take a big swing and give up premium draft capital either.

The Bears can bargain-bin shop on the trade market for receivers who wouldn't cost them much but may possibly reinvent themselves within an unsettled group.

Slayton and Agholor have already shown they're capable of filling the No. 2 role. Reagor has some appeal with his potential and inside-outside versatility. Chicago should roll the dice on any of the three wide receivers in an effort to provide Fields with another viable pass-catching target in 2022.

College football statistics are provided by cfbstats.com.

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.