How the Bears can use free agency, the draft to fill major void at wide receiver

Marquez Valdes-Scantling would give Justin Fields a deep threat if he joined the Bears. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO – Patience. That’s what Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles has been expressing through his actions since the legal tampering window opened on Monday morning.

Aside from making a first-wave splash by agreeing to terms with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi on a three-year, $40.5 million contract with $26.35 million guaranteed, and a few minor moves Tuesday night, the Bears have stood pat as a handful of free-agent wide receivers and offensive linemen -- two significant positions of need as Chicago builds around second-year quarterback Justin Fields -- found new teams.

Poles’ approach could soon pay off, especially when it comes to addressing Chicago’s wide receiver void. Christian Kirk made headlines when the Jacksonville Jaguars doled out a four-year deal worth up to $84 million for the 25-year-old receiver, but the market came back to earth when Zay Jones (Las Vegas Raiders), Cedrick Wilson (Miami Dolphins), DJ Chark (Detroit Lions) and Russell Gage (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) agreed to more reasonable deals.

Currently, Chicago has two receivers under contract who saw the field in 2021: Darnell Mooney, who is coming off a 1,055-yard season, and Dazz Newsome, who caught two passes as a rookie. The only way for the Bears to evaluate Fields in 2022 is to provide him with weapons to throw to, and with plenty of affordable options remaining in free agency and receivers Chicago could target on Day 2 of the draft, Poles can soon fill out the receiver depth chart and still have resources left over to address other positions of need.

Here’s a look at several ways they can get there.

Free-agent receivers to consider

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

If the Bears want to wait until the second wave of free agency starts to begin filling holes at wide receiver, signing Valdes-Scantling is a good place to start. He’s been linked to Chicago because of his connection with former Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, who is the new offensive coordinator in Chicago, and he could be a friendly fit from a price tag perspective. His average annual value is estimated at $8.7 million according to Spotrac, which is reasonable for someone whose big-play ability will help Fields hone his downfield passing game. Valdes-Scantling leads the NFL in yards per reception (18.4) since 2019 after becoming a trusted deep threat for Aaron Rodgers. With 13 touchdowns and 2,153 receiving yards over his four-year career, the 27-year-old wide receiver would be a solid upgrade over Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin, who are both slated to become free agents. His 6-foot-4, 206-pound frame would give the Bears a nice option on the outside

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Chicago has interest in Smith-Schuster, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. A disappointing 2021 season that was marred by a shoulder injury limited him to five games. While injury history is always something to consider, it could make Smith-Schuster an affordable option for Chicago. Pittsburgh primarily used the 25-year-old in the slot, which is where the Bears found most of their success with Mooney, but the two can certainly co-exist in the same offense. The Pittsburgh wideout isn’t a WR1 but is a physical threat over the middle of the field and could fit into Chicago’s passing game as a solid complimentary piece.

Byron Pringle

Poles saw Pringle put together the most productive season of his three-year career in Kansas City in 2021 when he caught 42 passes for 568 yards and five touchdowns. Whether that’s indicative of playing in a high-octane offense with a dominant quarterback in Patrick Mahomes or a more direct reflection of where Pringle is as a player, that is something Poles can discern and factor into how the receiver could benefit Fields’ development. Pringle caught 70% of his targets in 2021 and showed an ability to create separation when facing tight coverage. He’s a solid role player who would be an inexpensive addition to Chicago’s offense.

Looking at the draft

As it stands, the Bears have six picks in the draft, including two in the second round after acquiring the 48th overall pick from the Los Angeles Chargers in exchange for Khalil Mack. The second round of the draft has produced the likes of Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman, and could be the sweet spot for Chicago to look to fill several spots on their roster.

Here’s what ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid said about three receivers he believes could be second-round options for Chicago.

George Pickens, Georgia

“Tall, rangy receiver with a really good catch radius. Solid route runner. I think he’s at his best during the downfield portion of the route tree. Being in a more wide-open offense will benefit him a lot. Fields is really good at throwing the ball downfield. (Pickens) will fit in well with that.”

Christian Watson, North Dakota State

“He’s a bigger receiver, about 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. I felt he was the best receiver at the Senior Bowl by far, even though he played at an FCS school. Was really impressed by his movement skills. He has a nice catch radius, too.”

Skyy Moore, Western Michigan

“He’s a bit smaller, around Mooney’s size. I was really impressed with his workouts (at the combine). Really good at getting open, creating separation and his hands are good.”