The Bears lacked talent at almost every position group in 2022 outside of quarterback. That included a wide receiver group that ranked last in the NFL in receptions and yards and tied for 30th in touchdown catches.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus were encouraged by the leap they saw from quarterback Justin Fields. But they know that more weapons are needed if they want that trajectory to continue in 2023.
“We’re always trying to add playmakers at all positions,” Eberflus said at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. “We want to do that for sure. That’s no different with the receiver position. The one thing that was great about the receiver position is that they really bought into the blocking piece of it but obviously we know that, as a receiver, you have to be a playmaker. We saw it in the playoffs, we saw it in the Super Bowl. Those guys were making plays at critical moments. And that’s what we need. So if we can add a critical piece like that in the course of the draft, we’re certainly going to do that.”
The wide receiver cupboard isn’t completely bare in Chicago. Darnell Mooney is a foundational part of the rebuild and has developed a good rapport with Fields. The Bears hope a full offseason will allow Chase Claypool to blossom.
Even with Mooney and Claypool in the fold, the Bears still will need to add at least two receivers this offseason whether that be in free agency, trade, or the draft.
Here are a few veteran options with the new league year around the corner.
The Vikings released the 32-year-old wide receiver on Friday in a cost-cutting move.
Thielen automatically becomes one of the best receivers on the free-agent market, especially with Michael Thomas now working on a contract extension to stay in New Orleans.
Thielen is a little long in the tooth, but he has recorded at least 67 catches, 716 yards, and six touchdowns in four of the last five seasons.
While Thielen isn’t an elite No. 1 receiver, he’s still a very productive No. 2/3. He has good hands, is a strong route runner, and could be a reliable weapon for Fields.
That being said, I don’t see Thielen landing in Chicago. His age, injury history, and expected price tag probably rule him out for the Bears.
Hopkins’ name has been floated as a possible Bears trade target since December.
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Hopkins is expected to be “flexible” with the last two years of his contract if he’s traded. Hopkins is on the books for salary cap hits of $19.45 million in 2023 and $14.915 million in 2024.
Longtime Cardinals reporter Mike Jurecki reported the Cardinals are looking for a second-round pick and a conditional pick or player in a deal for Hopkins.
If that is the price for Hopkins and he isn’t looking for a new contract, the Bears should be interested. At 30, Hopkins still has a few elite years left, and he’s the type of game-changing receiver who can help take Fields’ game to the next level.
The issue is the Bears traded their second-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Chase Claypool. Chicago owns the Baltimore Ravens’ second-round pick, thanks to the Roquan Smith trade, but it’s unlikely the Bears would be willing to part with their lone second-round selection. Should the Bears add an extra second-round pick when they deal the No. 1 overall selection, then adding Hopkins becomes at least somewhat of a possibility.
Odell Beckham Jr.
After 13 months of rehab, Beckham is holding a workout for 13 NFL teams in Arizona on Friday.
It’s unknown if the Bears will attend.
However, given that Beckham’s late-season flirtations revolved around teams in the playoff picture — Rams, Bills, and Giants — it seems unlikely he’d be interested in signing with a team still on the ground floor of a rebuild.
Meyers is probably the safest option on the free agent market.
He doesn’t have the injury history of Beckham, Parris Campbell, D.J. Chark, or Thomas, and he has been one of the more consistent receivers in the NFL over the past three seasons, notching at least 59 catches and 729 yards in each campaign.
Meyers is a polished route runner with great hands. Per ProFootballFocus, Meyers has a drop rate of just 3.1 percent over the past three seasons and a contested catch rate of 63.2 percent.
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He’ll likely get a deal that pays him $15-16 million annually. That number might be a bit too rich for a Bears team that is expected to spend heavily on the offensive and defensive line.
However, Meyers is certainly an option to watch when free agency opens next week.
The “bargain” options
This is where I expect the Bears to go to add to the wide receiver room before the draft.
Mecole Hardman, Robert Woods, Darius Slayton, and Parris Campbell are all potential options for the Bears.
Hardman raised eyebrows Thursday when he tweeted at Fields in response to a video that showed the two connecting during their short time together at Georgia.
Of all these options, Slayton seems like the safest bet. He has been very consistent since entering the NFL and doesn’t have the injury history of Campbell or the uneven production of Hardman.
PFF projects Slayton to get a two-year, $10 million contract. That’s right in the Bears’ wheelhouse as they look to spend big on the trenches.
Prediction: Bears sign Slayton, add another receiver in draft