Since the end of the 2019 season, when Allen Robinson put up one of the best receiving seasons in Bears history despite the offense being a total mess, nothing has gone like he expected or wanted.
Late that season, he talked about spending the rest of his career with the Bears and breaking all their receiving records. But he has been waiting two years for a contract extension that hasn’t come and now, as the offense has plummeted even further, he’s having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career.
“If somebody had told me this is where [my production] would be at, I would have bet heavily against that,” Robinson said Wednesday.
Same for the Bears. Regardless of the contentious and fruitless negotiations over a long-term deal, they believed Robinson was worth the $18 million they committed to him this season by using the franchise tag.
Robinson’s line of 26 catches (on 44 targets) for 271 yards and one touchdown puts him on pace — even with a 17-game schedule — for his lowest yardage output since his rookie season. This is a guy who had 1,000-yard seasons with Blake Bortles, Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles as his quarterbacks.
Over the Bears’ current three-game losing streak, Robinson totaled nine catches for 90 yards. He has yet to put up more than 63 yards in a game and has fallen behind second-year receiver Darnell Mooney (33 catches on 53 targets, 409 yards, one touchdown).
“It’s been tough,” Robinson said. “[I’m] just trying to account for everything, trying to figure out what there is that can be done differently on my end.”
After Robinson and Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet has 22 catches and everyone else has 11 or fewer.
It’s more a case of the Bears squandering him than sandbagging him, however. With the 31st-ranked offense and coach Matt Nagy’s future very much in jeopardy, the Bears certainly aren’t in position to exclude Robinson as some kind of ploy to lower his value.
In fact, it’s absolutely imperative for them to get him going. Robinson is the most underused asset this offense has.
The Bears, who started with 34-year-old Andy Dalton at quarterback then turned to rookie Justin Fields, have thrown and completed the second-fewest passes in the NFL. The team threw the 14th-most passes in 2019 and eighth-most last season.
The offense has veered from Nagy seeming to be allergic to running the ball to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor doing it as often as possible. That shift is inherently depressing all the passing numbers.
“There’s only one person who can get the ball per play,” Robinson said. “I don’t ever really think [I’m being ignored].”
Fields is another factor. Not only did he get minimal offseason work with Robinson because Nagy cemented Dalton as the starter, but it’s going to take time for Fields to operate the offense at full capacity. He played his best game in the Bears’ loss to the 49ers, so he appears to be headed in the right direction.
Fields seems to have a decent connection with Mooney and Kmet, which is a good start, but he’ll only get better once he gets going with Robinson, too. He has completed fewer than 20 passes in all but one of his six starts, so there haven’t been many catches to go around.
Mooney, one of the team’s fastest players, is typically going to present Fields with a clearer opportunity than Robinson. He is averaging 2.7 yards of separation per target, whereas Robinson is last in the league at 1.7 yards. His nagging ankle injury is an issue, but also Robinson has built his career on going up for difficult, contested catches, and that requires trust from Fields.
That career, by the way, has reached a pivotal point. At 28, Robinson could still get a massive contract, but that’s going to be difficult if his numbers follow their current track.
He was floated as a possible trade piece heading into the deadline Tuesday, but the Bears didn’t get any offer they believed was worthwhile considering they could try to retain Robinson and bank on an uptick or let him walk in free agency and collect what likely would be a third-round compensatory draft pick.
The best thing for his financial future and the Bears’ present is for him to continue developing chemistry with Fields. That’s the way for both sides to get what they want, and it might even mean Robinson sticks around to chase those franchise records after all.