Bears Urged to Secure Star Pass Catcher With Long-Term Deal

Darnell Mooney, Bears

Getty Wide receiver Darnell Mooney of the Chicago Bears celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bears are going to add several pieces to the roster in the coming months, but a top objective will also be securing the prominent players they already have.

One such player is wideout Darnell Mooney, the only Bears pass catcher to produce a 1,000-yard campaign in the past two seasons. Bill Barnwell of ESPN advocated on Monday, February 20, for the Bears to invest meaningfully in Mooney as he heads into the fourth year of his NFL career.

[Bears GM Ryan] Poles could kick off the offseason by locking up Mooney, the team’s best wide receiver. Mooney has seen a quarterback shop of horrors over his first three seasons, but he still managed to generate 1.90 yards per route run in 2022, just ahead of D.J. Moore, Christian Kirk and Mike Evans,” Barnwell wrote. “He is at 1.65 yards per route run over his career, virtually identical to the figure posted by [Chase] Claypool, but Claypool has been on the decline after an impressive rookie season in 2020.”

Mooney Has Shot at Breakout Season For Bears After Injury-Marred Year

Darnell Mooney

GettyChicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney is eligible for an extension ahead of the 2023 NFL regular season.

The timing on a deal for Mooney is a little bit tricky considering his career trajectory and Chicago’s coming rebuild.

Earning the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, the Bears’ worst season of this iteration of the franchise is now likely behind them. A significant leap in the standings next year would not come as a surprise considering the assets the team has in play, namely the aforementioned top draft choice and approximately $100 million in salary cap space to spend in free agency or to be used to accommodate trades for big-name contributors.

An ankle injury that required surgery cut Mooney’s 2022 campaign short by five games. As a result, he pulled down just 40 catches for 492 yards and two touchdowns over 12 appearances, per Pro Football Reference.

However, during his second season the former fifth-round pick made 81 catches for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns, offering evidence of a ceiling that could equate to triple-digit grabs and four-digit yardage production in the right system with the right quarterback.

Mooney Deal May be Affected by Bears’ Interest in Hopkins, Higgins

Darnell Mooney

GettyWide receiver Darnell Mooney of the Chicago Bears runs into the tunnel after a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on August 18, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

That quarterback might be Justin Fields, though he struggled again as a thrower in year two, even despite threatening the all-time rushing record at the position. That quarterback could also be Bryce Young out of Alabama, or some other prospect at the top of this year’s draft.

Chicago has the money to pay Mooney now, but making a massive investment in him is less advisable if the team is not certain about where it’s going under center long-term, or about what it has in whoever that player ultimately ends up being.

If the Bears don’t extend Mooney, he will enter free agency next spring. Chicago could always use the franchise tag to keep him in 2024, though the going rate for tagged receivers this offseason is upwards of $20 million and will only increase a year from now.

Insider Jeff Hughes of Da Bears Blog on Twitter last November scoffed at the notion that the franchise would extend either Mooney or Claypool at the price of $20 million annually. Potentially doing so for just one season two years from now is more tenable than offering up something like a four-year contract for $80 million this offseason, but the logical foundation of the argument remains the same in either case.

The Bears are also expected to be an active player in the trade market for receivers like DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals or Tee Higgins of the Cincinnati Bengals, should the latter become available, which means extra money at the position could be thin.

However, regardless of who else Chicago adds to the receiver room this offseason, the team is almost certain to bring back either Mooney or Claypool on a long-term deal. And as Barnwell pointed out, Mooney is the best pass catcher on the roster.

It becomes a win-win scenario for the Bears if they can lock Mooney in this offseason at the more reasonable annual number of approximately $15 million per year.

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