By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) Though it was certainly an unintended consequence, Mitchell Trubisky made strides as a rookie quarterback in part because he worked with such a difficult situation at wide receiver for the Bears.
Trubisky worked around a sub-par cast of wideouts by learning to work through his progressions with precision, look off defenders to buy his targets space and eventually managed some success in the passing game. But the Bears can’t go into 2018, Trubisky’s second season, with the same supporting cast.
Signed for a complementary role, Kendall Wright was the Bears’ leading receiver in 2017 with just 59 catches, 614 yards and one touchdown. He had a serviceable season, though it’s far from what a top target should produce.
Rookie running back Tarik Cohen was the second-leading receiver with 53 catches, and the drop-off was steep from there. Josh Bellamy, largely a special-teams player, had 24 receptions. Dontrelle Inman, acquired by trade from the Chargers in late October, caught 23 passes. Deonte Thompson was had the fourth-most catches among Bears receivers — and he spent the final 11 games of the year with the Bills.
Coming off a breakout 2016, Cameron Meredith suffered a torn ACL during the preseason, which proved to be a devastating blow to the receiving group. Kevin White, the Bears’ first-round pick in 2015, suffered a fractured scapula in the season opener and ended a third straight year on injured reserve, while veteran free-agent signing Markus Wheaton managed just three receptions, one more than White in 10 more contests.
“We didn’t get the production we needed from that position, and there’s multiple factors involved with that, injuries being one,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said during his year-end press conference. “We need younger guys to step up and we just need better from that position.
“We’re going to need to attack a lot of positions this offseason, but it would be accurate to say that that’s one of them. I’m excited because we have the resources to do so in free agency or the draft.”
Where do the Bears go from here? Before they can make additions, one can expect some subtractions. Releasing Wheaton seems likely after he made $2 million per reception last season, and that move would carry a nominal cap hit. The Bears should and likely will move to re-sign Wright or Inman, who influenced Trubisky’s growth as a rookie.
Players like Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson should appeal to the Bears in free agency and could serve as a go-to target whom Trubisky needs to be successful. The Bears also will likely retain Meredith, set to become a restricted free agent, and can hope he has another big season in store.
Then there’s the NFL Draft, where the Bears hold the eighth overall selection and could look for a wideout. Alabama star Calvin Ridley is the consensus top receiver in this class and would make sense to land in Chicago. SMU’s Courtland Sutton, Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown and Florida State’s Auden Tate are among options on the second day of the draft. Perhaps Pace has other names in mind for later in the draft after selecting zero receivers last April.
What’s clear is the Bears can’t count on what they have on the roster now, which Pace admitted after the season. That includes White, who has played five NFL games and finished only three healthy. He should return for a fourth year in Chicago but won’t be guaranteed a role this time around.
Pace is fully invested in the future of Trubisky, whose rookie season brought mixed results. He went out and hired Matt Nagy as head coach to oversee the growth of an offense around the quarterback.
Next, the Bears must back that investment with the right targets around Trubisky. An important offseason awaits.