Darnell Mooney is going to be looking for a new contract extension from the Chicago Bears between now and the start of the 2024 league year next March, and the projections suggest it won’t break the bank for Chicago to keep him.
Brad Spielberger and Timo Riske of Pro Football Focus recently examined the most notable extension candidates on offense from the 2020 class and projected Mooney could get the third-most money in terms of average annual value ($17.33 million) among the receivers in the class who are seeking new deals with their current teams.
PFF’s exact projection is that Mooney will receive a three-year, $52 million contract from the cap-flush Bears with $38.25 million in guaranteed money. That’s far more generous than the $14.9 million per year that Spotrac projects as his market value.
“Ultimately, Mooney is probably worth more than the [above] projection, but here we have the former fifth-rounder cashing in and making sure to abide by the shorter-term deals we saw last offseason so he can cash in one more time — hopefully, another big deal to keep playing with his close friend Justin Fields in Chicago,” PFF wrote.
Darnell Mooney Coming Off Season-Ending Injury
The Bears have strongly suggested they want to keep Mooney in the picture beyond the 2023 season, even after acquiring new No. 1 wideout D.J. Moore in their blockbuster top-pick draft with the Carolina Panthers earlier this offseason. In fact, back in January, general manager Ryan Poles went as far as to use the “L” word to describe him.
“I love him more than I did when I first walked in the door,” Poles said. “I think he’s a special human being, first and foremost, and a really good football player.”
Mooney has certainly proven he can be a trustworthy playmaker for the Bears. Two seasons ago — when Justin Fields was a rookie and Ryan Pace was still in charge — he caught 81 passes for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns while competing for reps with veterans Allen Robinson, Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd.
While Mooney’s numbers were down over his 12 games in 2022, he was working with the NFL’s least-effective passing offense and still had a handful of “wow” grabs.
The big thing for Mooney in 2023 is making sure he can properly bounce back from the ankle injury that cut his season short in Week 12 last season. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Mooney had to undergo surgery to repair torn ligaments in his ankle, and he was absent for the start of OTA practices as he continues to rehab the injury. So long as he can regain full speed and mobility, he should be a reliable weapon again.
Will Tyler Scott or Chase Claypool Push Mooney Out?
Mooney is considering one of the big three chasing contract extensions with the Bears before next offseason right alongside starting tight end Cole Kmet and top cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Over the past year, though, the Bears have picked up a significant amount of leverage to help them in their negotiations with him, using trades to add both Moore and Chase Claypool and drafting fourth-rounder Tyler Scott this year.
That’s not to say the Bears don’t want to extend Mooney, but it does give them options if they run into any problems throughout the negotiation process. It also provides them with a competitive environment to truly determine if Mooney is worth the money.
Claypool will also be seeking a new contract after 2023 concludes, and while he had more than 850 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, he has not yet done anything for the Bears that justifies them signing him to an extension. From a financial standpoint, it makes sense for Chicago to pit both him and Mooney against each other in the upcoming season and extend the one who brings the most to the table.
On the other hand, the receiver the Bears just drafted — 5-foot-10, 177-pound Scott — is far more similar to Mooney than Claypool and could be viewed as an ideal replacement for him if he lives up as a fourth-round selection. If all three of them thrive in 2023, the Bears might decide that keeping Scott on a rookie contract and extending Claypool — to retain a big, physical presence for their offense — the best option moving forward.