Bears’ Former Playmaker Locks in New Deal in AFC North

Goodwin Bears WR Browns

Getty Former Bears wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has signed with the Browns.

The Chicago Bears are looking forward to turning the page with a new and improved receiving corps in 2023 after the trade additions of Chase Claypool and D.J. Moore over the past six months, but one of their former playmakers from Justin Fields’ rookie season has found new lodgings in the AFC North.

On April 14, the Cleveland Browns announced they had officially signed former Bears blazing-fast wide receiver Marquise Goodwin to a new contract for the 2023 season. Goodwin had originally agreed to terms with the Browns on a one-year deal back on March 24, but now he is locked in to join Deshaun Watson’s arsenal for next year.

Goodwin, 32, averaged 15.7 yards on 20 receptions and amassed a fifth-most 313 receiving yards during his 14-game stint with the Bears in 2021. While he mostly played a WR3 role behind Darnell Mooney and former veteran Allen Robinson, he was one of their better deep threats with speed that was hard to match, having clocked a 4.27-second time in the 40-yard dash during the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

After departing Chicago in the 2022 offseason, Goodwin moved on to Seattle and functioned as a quality rotational piece alongside D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, catching 27 passes  — his most since his 2017 season in San Francisco — for 387 yards and four touchdowns for the Seahawks during Geno Smith’s breakout campaign. Now, he will fight to do the same with the Browns on a depth chart that includes Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Elijah Moore and 2022 third-rounder David Bell.

Several Bears 2022 Wide Receivers Remain Unsigned

Goodwin might have finally landed his next gig with the Browns for the 2023 season,  but there are several other former Bears receivers — ones who caught passes from Fields last year — who are still searching for their next team on the open market.

The biggest two are Byron Pringle and Dante Pettis. Pringle was the only notable wide receiver the Bears added in the first wave of 2022 free agency, but he caught just two passes for 33 over his first three performances before landing on injured reserve for six games in the middle of the season. He did return in November and played out the rest of the season, but he mostly disappeared into the background, never chipping in for more than a few catches or 40 yards in any of his remaining performances.

Meanwhile, Pettis was more of a special teams asset than an impactful pass-catcher. The majority of his value came as a punt returner, fielding 18 for an average of 9.1 yards on the year after taking over for rookie Velus Jones Jr. midway through the season. While he did finish with the team’s second-most receiving touchdowns (three) and ended up fifth in both catches (19) and receiving yards (245), he also finished the year with a catch rate of just 46.3% despite receiving a third-most 41 targets.

In both cases, the Bears seem unlikely to explore a reunion. The same can probably be assumed for their only other free agent receiver, N’Keal Harry, after his lone season in Chicago went by without much more than a blip or two. The Bears had traded a 2024 seventh-rounder to the New England Patriots for Harry just before the start of training camp, but he was injured in one of their early practices and started the year on injured reserve. Even once he returned in mid-October, he was even less of a factor than Pettis or Pringle with just seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown on the year, gaining most of his production on a contested 49-yard jump ball that he secured in Week 13.

Bears Could Draft At Least 1 WR in 2023 NFL Draft

The Bears have little reason to re-sign any of their pending free agent receivers. They have a solid starting three in Moore, Claypool and Darnell Mooney, who was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2021. They also have Equanimeous St. Brown back on a one-year deal and Velus Jones Jr. looking to make a Year 2 jump after showing flashes as a playmaker down the stretch of his rookie season. It is certainly a stronger rotation than the Bears had in 2022 when they needed Pettis to play meaningful snaps for their offense.

The Bears also added former catch-everything Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan Jr. in free agency. Tonyan caught 53 passes for 470 yards and two touchdowns for the Packers in 2022, but he was also coming off a season-ending ACL tear that he sustained in November 2021. The real highlight for Tonyan was in 2020 when he caught 52 of 59 passes from Aaron Rodgers and tied Travis Kelce for the most touchdowns (11) among all tight ends in the league. If he can rediscover some of that production alongside Kmet in 2023, Fields will have a good amount of firepower at his disposal.

Still, the Bears would be wise to invest in at least one more pass-catcher in the 2023 NFL draft later this month. Mooney and Claypool are both heading into contract years with Chicago in 2023, and while the Bears now have Moore under contract for the next few seasons, it would help their negotiating process if they have another young receiver waiting in the wings as a fallback option if one or both do not re-sign with the Bears.

The Bears will most likely not take an enormous swing at the position even though there is a good chance that Ohio State star Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be available when they are picking at No. 9 overall in the first round, but there could be a few options that could appeal to them on Day 2 or Day 3, including SMU’s Rashee Rice, Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson, West Virginia’s Bryce Ford-Wheaton or Maryland’s Rakim Jarrett.

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