By Greg Gabriel–
(670 The Score) NFL free agency opens with the legal tampering period on March 12, while contracts can then officially be signed starting March 14. With about four weeks left before then, we still don’t know everyone who will be available, because incumbent teams can still agree to new deals with their own players until then.
In 2017, the Bears’ wide receiver corps struggled mightily on the stat sheet, and general manager Ryan Pace has admitted he needs his receivers to step up and improve. However, I’ve believed for some time that the group isn’t as bad as what we saw last year. I blame much of that on the offense the Bears were running, as it didn’t do the receivers any favors.
In a new fast-paced offense under new coach Matt Nagy and an entirely new offensive staff, Bears receivers will be re-evaluated. The new staff will decide whom they see as fits in the new offense and whom they don’t want back. Then they’ll turn their attention to evaluating free-agent receivers to find out who can fit their new scheme.
The Bears’ offensive schemes should look much like that of the Chiefs and Eagles of this past year. Speed and quickness will be crucial important traits for a receiver to play in the Bears’ scheme.
Chicago will get Cam Meredith back after he missed the entire 2017 season. He caught 66 passes in 2016 and had his arrow pointing up before tearing his ACL last August. He would’ve easily been the Bears’ top receiver if healthy.
Kevin White, the oft-injured first-round pick of 2015, will also be back. He can’t be counted on for anything, but he’ll still be given every opportunity to have success.
The Bears also have decisions to make on potential free agents Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright. Acquired in a late October trade with the Chargers, Inman has had some success in the league, but it’s unclear if he’s a fit for the team’s new scheme. The same holds true with Wright, who was the Bears’ leading receiver with 59 receptions in 2017.
As for free agents, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry is a name that’s often brought up. I don’t feel he will be a player the Bears will chase in free agency. From a physical standpoint, he isn’t a fit, having run a 4.77-second 40-yard dash at the combine and boasting a 28-inch vertical jump. Those are poor numbers for a wide receiver. On top of that, he averaged 8.8 yards per catch this past season. He simply doesn’t scare anyone when he does make a catch, and he doesn’t get far after a reception.
Additionally, Rams receiver Sammy Watkins isn’t expected to hit the market, as Los Angeles paid a lot to get him last August and is trying to sign him to a long-term deal. If that isn’t done, they will most likely put the franchise tag on him. But if he does become available for any reason, he’ll be a sought-after target.
Beyond them, there are some interesting receivers who could become available. Here’s a look at some of them and a quick breakdown:
Allen Robinson, Jaguars
Robinson, 24, has been a big-play receiver for the Jaguars since he entered the league in 2014. He only ran 4.60 at the combine but came back to run 4.47 at the Penn State pro day. Robinson is coming off a torn ACL suffered in the 2017 opener, so it’s doubtful that Jacksonville will try and use the franchise tag on him. He has the potential to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver. In 2015, he had 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s averaged 14.1 yards per reception for his career.
Albert Wilson, Chiefs
Wilson would be an interesting player for the Bears in that he’s coming from the Chiefs and would already know the offense. He’s 5-foot-9, 200 pounds and has some of the speed that Nagy is looking for. He was primarily a role player in Kansas City, recording 42 receptions for 554 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. He’s best as a slot receiver. If the Bears go after the 25-year-old Wilson, it’s because Nagy feels his best football is in front of him.
Marqise Lee, Jaguars
A second-round pick in 2014, Lee hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Still, he has come in the last two years, over which he has a combined 119 receptions and six touchdowns. Lee, 26, has the physical traits that the Bears are looking for in a wideout, and it won’t cost an exorbitant amount to sign him.
Paul Richardson, Seahawks
Richardson, 25, is another second-round pick in 2014 who hasn’t lived up to his billing all the time. At 6-foot, 183 pounds, he has a lean frame. He also has small hands and has had trouble with dropped passes. But he’s fast (4.40), and his price will be reasonable.
Jaron Brown, Cardinals
Brown was went undrafted out of college in 2013. It has taken him time to develop. He had his best year in 2017, with 31 receptions for 477 yards and four touchdowns. Brown has size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and speed (4.40), but he may just be a career backup.
Donte Moncrief, Colts
Moncrief, 24, has what the Bears are looking for as far as size, speed and athleticism but he hasn’t been consistent. His best year was in 2015, when he had 64 receptions for 733 yards. He has had durability issues in the past two seasons, missing a combined 11 games.
John Brown, Cardinals
Following the 2015 season, there were many who felt Brown would be a star in the NFL. He had 65 receptions for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns that season. He has experienced injury problems in the past two years, including missing six games in 2017, and hasn’t looked like the same player. He does have the speed the Bears are looking for (4.34).
Jordan Matthews, Bills
Matthews was outstanding in his first two NFL seasons, with 67 and 85 receptions, respectively. He added 73 catches in 2016, his third season, but also started to drop some catchable balls and lost confidence. Matthews was traded to Buffalo in 2017 and had some injury problems as well as a quarterback who struggled to throw. If Matthews can revert back to 2015 form, he might be a great fit for the Bears. He has the size at 6-foot-3 and speed at 4.46.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who’s an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.