It’s no secret the Chicago Bears will be scouring the free agent market for available wide receivers next season.
The Bears acquired Chase Claypool from the Pittsburgh Steelers before the trade deadline, and together with Darnell Mooney and rookie Velus Jones Jr., the three are slated to be the team’s only wideouts under contract in 2023, according to Spotrac.
While Mooney and Claypool should be fixtures in Chicago’s offense next year, Jones remains unproven. The 25-year-old rookie out of Tennessee was a healthy scratch against the Miami Dolphins Week 9, which isn’t a great sign in terms of how the team views his current contributions on offense.
Jones could grow into a solid player, of course, but early returns haven’t been good. Regardless, Bears quarterback Justin Fields will need more weapons next year, and one receiver in particular is looking as though he could become a top target for Chicago in 2023.
JuJu Smith-Schuster to Chicago in 2023?
“Chicago does not need to sign the biggest names on the market, but it does need to find the most effective weapons to help Fields take another step forward in his third season,” Joe Tansey of Bleacher Report wrote on November 9.
Injuries have plagued the Chiefs WR over his six years in the league. A knee issue limited him in 2019, and a right shoulder injury obtained Week 5 of his 2021 campaign resulted in him missing the remainder of the season. Smith-Schuster is healthy now, however, and has been playing well, particularly of late. Over his last three games, he has 22 receptions for 325 yards and two scores.
“Smith-Schuster could be the best one on the free-agent market if he continues to play well for the Kansas City Chiefs,” Tansey wrote, adding: “Smith-Schuster is likely to have plenty of options if he continues to play well in Kansas City, so the Bears may have to spend a good amount of money on him or look elsewhere.”
How Much Will JuJu Smith-Schuster Command in 2023?
Smith-Schuster is still young — he turns 26 on November 22 — and he signed a one-year, $3.8 million deal with Kansas City this offseason. His price tag was at the lower end of the spectrum due to his injury history, but if he can stay healthy for the remainder of the season, he’ll likely be commanding somewhere between $7 and $10 million next year, per Over the Cap’s current valuation.
So far in 2022, Smith-Schuster has been playing the way he did his first two seasons in the league, when he amassed 1,426 receiving yards and 14 TDs on 169 receptions. He is averaging 13.2 yards per catch, 7.2 yards after the catch (numbers via PFF) and quarterbacks have a 107.0 rating when looking his way this year. He has also been versatile, doing damage out wide and in the slot this year.
While the Bears should absolutely not overpay for Smith-Schuster next year, if he stays healthy, he will be one of the better wideouts available on the market and that will drive his value up. Chicago may be better served adding O-line help in free agency while addressing needs at receiver in the draft, but it will all depend on his price tag. Either way, he’ll be a player to watch for the Bears in 2023.