March 26, 2023

Bears Analysis

What might a Darnell Mooney extension look like for the Chicago Bears?

Mooney is under contract in Chicago through the 2023 season

Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney, left, catches the pass against Miami Dolphins cornerback Kader Kohou during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 in Chicago.

Some big decisions are looming for Bears general manager Ryan Poles.

The NFL Scouting Combine begins next week, free agency is on the horizon, and the draft is right around the corner. Besides those major offseason milestones, Poles has several young stars on his team who could be in line for contract extensions in the near future.

Receiver Darnell Mooney is one such player. In 2023, Mooney heads into the final year of his rookie contract. He is due for an extension and a pay raise, or he will hit free agency in 2024. Mooney has emerged as a fan favorite and one of the team’s only reliable receivers.

Here’s a look at how Mooney stacks up against other receivers across the league.

Production comparison

Below is a rough comparison between Mooney and several receivers who earned second contracts in recent years.

PlayerSecond contractPer year averageAge (at time of extension)Games missedReceptions (per season)Receiving yards (per season)Receiving TDs (per season)
Darnell Mooney??????255 (three seasons)60.7726.33.3
Terry McLaurin3 years, $70 million, $53 million guaranteed$23.3 million263 (three seasons)741,0305.3
Diontae Johnson2 years, $36.7 million, $27 million guaranteed$18.35262 (three seasons)84.7921.36.7
Christian Kirk4 years, $72 million, $37 million guaranteed$18 million259 (four seasons)59725.54.3
Hunter Renfrow2 years, $32 million, $21 million guaranteed$16 million263 (three seasons)69.3766.35
Michael Gallup5 years, $62.5 million, $23 million guaranteed$12.5 million2610 (four seasons)48.3725.53.8

Some notes to keep in mind:

  • All five comparison contracts were signed in 2022. Kirk was the only one of the five who reached free agency.
  • McLaurin’s deal put him among the top 10 highest-paid receivers. Tyreek Hill’s $30 million average annual salary leads the way at the position. There are currently 14 receivers that make at least $20 million annually.
  • Gallup signed his contract after missing half of the 2021 season with a calf injury, then tearing his ACL in Week 17.

Wide receiver is one of the hardest positions to figure out. The lengths and total costs of contracts vary widely. Much like quarterbacks, receivers are making far more money than they were even 10 years ago.

The 2020 draft class has a number of quality receivers who are now eligible for extensions. First-round picks have a fifth-year team option, so Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy don’t necessarily need extensions yet, but are eligible. Beyond the first round, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman Jr., Chase Claypool, Gabe Davis and Mooney are all entering the final year of their rookie contracts.

The NFL world gasped collectively when the Jaguars signed Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72 million deal last March. The Jaguars were betting that Kirk could emerge as a No. 1 receiver if given the chance. He did emerge as the Jaguars’ top receiver with his first 1,000-yard season in 2022. Before signing that big deal, Kirk’s production in Arizona nearly mirrored what Mooney has done in three seasons in Chicago.

Another similar comparison in terms of past production is Michael Gallup, who earned a five-year, $62.5 million extension with Dallas last year. The Kirk contract and the Gallup contract are two very different deals for essentially the same level of production. The catch might be that Gallup wasn’t the team’s best receiver (that would be Lamb) and he was coming off a major injury.

Mooney can at least say that he has been the Bears’ best receiver for two years. He has one 1,000-yard season to his name. His touchdown numbers are low, but his production levels are fairly consistent over his three seasons. He’s also a team player who everyone at Halas Hall seems to respect.

Wear and tear

Mooney missed the final five regular season games in 2022 with an ankle injury, and previously missed one playoff game after the 2020 regular season. Otherwise, he has been healthy. He’s small for the position, weighing in at only 173 pounds last season. That could be a concern for his long-term durability in the NFL.

Salary cap implications

The Bears have $98 million in available salary cap space in 2023. Money is not an issue for Poles. He has left himself plenty of space to extend multiple core players, if he so chooses.

Why it is, or isn’t, a good fit

Even with similar production, it’s jarring to imagine Mooney making Kirk-type money. Then again, it was hard to imagine Kirk receiving the contract he did. Mooney and his agent should absolutely be seeking Kirk’s $18 million-per-year salary. Unfortunately, for teams across the league, the Jaguars set the bar astronomically high with that contract. For Mooney, and really any NFL receiver with decent production, the conversation starts there. Mooney and his camp can make a real argument that he is worth every penny Kirk was.

Even if Poles isn’t willing to shell out $18 million a year for Mooney, he should be ready to spend at least $16 million a year, similar to what the Raiders gave to Hunter Renfrow. Something like a three-year, $48 million extension with $30 million guaranteed could be the type of deal that would make both sides happy. Given what the market is for receivers, in this day and age, that would be considered a relatively team-friendly deal.

If Mooney wants to join the $20 million per year club, he probably would have to bet on himself and play out the 2023 season first in hopes of a monster year.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.