September 26, 2022


Analysis

Bears 2022 free agency primer: Who is available at wide receiver?

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster rushes for a 3-yard touchdown on Sept. 19, 2021 against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh.

Wide receiver is the sweet spot of the 2022 NFL free-agent market. It’s loaded with talent, although it was thinned a bit Tuesday with Mike Williams re-upping with the Los Angeles Chargers and with franchise tags put on Green Bay’s Davante Adams and Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin.

There are young stars, young emerging talents, top talents hampered to date by injuries and a number of aging former No. 1 wideouts who still can contribute.

And, with Adams, Williams and Godwin now off the board, Allen Robinson now is the best of the bunch, at least until Amari Cooper is released in Dallas.

Top available wide receivers

Robinson: One of the most underrated No. 1 possession guys in the league from 2018-20, everything that could go wrong for him in 2021 did. Robinson will have multiple suitors, but what they will pay – he turns 29 at the end of August – will be interesting to see.

Christian Kirk: A little smaller than the rest of this group, Kirk (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) had been a solid second or third option in Arizona his first three seasons until emerging as their top threat after DeAndre Hopkins went down last season. He doesn’t turn 26 until November and should emerge with a big payday.

JuJu Smith-Schuster: After a Pro Bowl season in 2018, his second year in the league, Smith-Schuster has struggled the past three seasons with injuries and the Steelers’ declining offense. But at only age 25, teams will compete for at the least a high-end No. 2 receiver.

D.J. Chark: He’s never played a full season, but he did have 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, which earned him a Pro Bowl trip in 2019, when he played 15 games. At 6-4, 200 pounds, a number of clubs will line up for his services.

Odell Beckham Jr.: It’s hard to believe he’ll turn 30 this year. Injuries derailed four straight seasons from 2017-20, and Beckham tore his left ACL for the second time in the Super Bowl. Also, who knows how much extra baggage he’d bring. But he’s OBJ.

Sammy Watkins and Will Fuller: Both top No. 2 receiver prospects that have been unable to stay on the field because of injuries throughout their careers. That could make them bargains on short-term prove-it deals.

Under-the-radar values

Atlanta’s Russell Gage is coming off a breakout season at 26. He will have plenty of interest as a high-end No. 3 receiver and probably a solid No. 2. Las Vegas’ Zay Jones is only 27 and was becoming Derek Carr’s go-to guy as the 2021 season came to a close.

Michael Gallup never quite reached his potential in Dallas, but he showed flashes and is only 26. He’ll command plenty of interest.

Some teams will see New Orleans’ Tre’Quan Smith as a poor man’s Deebo Samuel.

Kansas City’s Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson also will hit the open market. A slow starter, Pringle is coming off a breakout season after catching 42 balls and scoring five TDs. Robinson is a No. 3 or 4 receiver, but he has a nose for the end zone and special-teams abilities to boot.

Bears’ level of need

Seismic.

Darnell Mooney is the only NFL receiver under contract, and Nsimba Webster, Dazz Newsome, Isaiah Coulter are their only prospects.

Best fits for Bears

Re-signing Allen Robinson makes all the sense in the world since his price tag has plummeted, but it seems unlikely given how his price tag plummeted while with the Bears.

With the Bears’ huge void at the position, any of these guys would be welcome, but Kirk, Smith-Schuster or Chark may be the most realistic of the top guys, and Cooper, assuming he indeed does becomes available.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles has history with Pringle and Demarcus Robinson, and the Bears really should re-sign wide receiver/return specialist Jakeem Grant with the uncertainty around Tarik Cohen.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and ShawLocal.com.