Bears Sign Former Chargers Free Agent WR to 2023 Deal

Joe Reed Bears

Getty The Bears signed former Chargers receiver/return man Joe Reed to a futures contract for 2023.

The Chicago Bears have found a potential new candidate to be their kick returner for the 2023 season after making another futures signing last week.

The Bears signed former Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver and return specialist Joe Reed to a reserve/future contract on Thursday, January 19, adding an experienced returner to the mix for next season along with more depth for their receiving room.

Reed — a 2020 fifth-round pick for the Chargers — has not played in a regular-season game since his rookie year, but he did see extended action as a kick returner in 11 games for the games with 21 career kick returns for 435 yards. The 25-year-old also showed flashes as a pass-catcher during the 2022 preseason despite missing the cut for the initial 53-man roster heading into the season.

The Bears don’t necessarily need a new return specialist for 2023 after Velus Jones Jr. showed signs of improvement toward the end of his rookie year, but Reed gives them someone to challenge Jones for the job in the offseason. They could also potentially test out Reed as a candidate to return punts next season with veteran Dante Pettis set to his free agency; although, Reed did not return punts in either college or L.A.

The Bears now have seven receivers signed to their 2023 offseason roster with Reed joining Daurice Fountain and Nsimba Webster as fellow futures signings. They also have Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown and Jones due to return.

Reed Had Dynamic Career as Returner Coming Into NFL

Reed’s dynamic ability as a return specialist was the primary reason he received the attention that he did coming out of college. During his senior season at Virginia in 2019, he averaged 33.2 yards on 24 kickoff returns and took two of them to the house for touchdowns. His starring efforts earned him All-American status as well as the Jet Award, given to the top return specialist in college football each season.

Reed wasn’t just a one-hit wonder as a returner, either. He held down the role in all four of his seasons with the Cavaliers, fielding at least 24 kickoffs in each one and posting a career average of 28.7 yards per kickoff return. His consistency also included his ability to find the end zone, scoring a total of five touchdowns over his final three seasons.

While Reed hasn’t been able to achieve the same level of success at the NFL level, his background could be viewed as valuable in the eyes of a Bears team looking to improve their roster in just about every way they can heading into the 2023 season. Even if his signing amounts to nothing in the long run, he is exactly the type of low-cost, high-potential player the Bears should be gambling on at this point in their offseason.

Bears Could Add Another Returner in 2023 NFL Draft

Finding a new return specialist certainly isn’t a priority for the Bears in 2023. One of the main reasons they drafted Jones in the third round of last year’s NFL draft was the value he possessed as a return man, and even after a rookie season filled with mistakes and fumbles, there is little reason to think Jones won’t hold the role when next season starts.

That said, the Bears could add a few more options to the fray between now and then if they invest in either receivers, running backs or cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL draft. While it seems unlikely that Chicago would seek out a prospect specifically because of his abilities as a return man, it is often the way quicker, more agile players can fight for more playing time at their actual position. That’s how Khalil Herbert first made an impression with the Bears during his 2021 rookie season, and now he has worked his way into a position where he could be their No. 1 running back to start 2023.

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