Last 4 games crucial for WR Chase Claypool as Bears approach contract talks

While it’s true any move this season would be future-focused and Claypool will be better once he gets a full offseason, everyone expected more than 12 catches, 111 yards and no touchdowns over his first five games.

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A photo of Bears quarterback Justin Fields talking to wide receiver Chase Claypool between plays against the Packers.

Chase Claypool (10) has yet to establish his connection with Justin Fields (1).

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

In a year that has been marked mostly by demoralizing departures as the Bears bulldozed the roster in the first phase of their rebuild, the midseason trade for wide receiver Chase Claypool provided a burst of excitement.

So much elite talent had exited Halas Hall, including linebacker Roquan Smith the day before, but landing Claypool was a sign that this project is indeed headed somewhere good and construction was underway.

But it hasn’t felt like that at all in the month and a half since Claypool arrived.

The trade has been a flop so far, though the Bears are optimistic their investment of trading a second-round pick — currently No. 35 overall, where teams can find all-pro receivers like Deebo Samuel and Davante Adams — will pay off as Claypool fully integrates into the offense.

That hasn’t happened yet, which is surprising considering he’s a proven talent and the Bears’ glaring need at the position is even greater after Darnell Mooney’s season-ending foot injury.

Matt Eberflus insisted Claypool is “in a good spot,” but he has averaged just 4.4 targets and has yet to play more than 67% of the offensive snaps in a game. He acknowledged Claypool hasn’t mastered the book.

“I wouldn’t say he’s there yet, [but] he’s getting there,” Eberflus said. “It’s all new to him, and there’s a lot of volume of offense that he has to learn.”

Claypool missed practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. Presumably it’s the one he suffered against the Packers, but he was able to finish that game with a brace.

The Bears haven’t said it outright, but the tone from Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has indicated they view this as more of a long-term project — almost like this is an early start to Claypool’s 2023 ramp-up. Don’t fret, they’ve said at every turn, but they say that about almost everything.

While it’s true any move this season would be future-focused, and Claypool will be better once he gets a full offseason to prepare, certainly everyone expected more than 12 catches, 111 yards and no touchdowns over his first five games.

The NFL’s best receivers, like Adams, Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson, get more than 10 targets per game. Given Claypool’s stature, the absence of any other proven receiver on the active roster and the big-picture implications, he needs that level of involvement coming out of the bye week.

The Bears must gain a thorough grasp on how good Claypool is before next season, which makes the remaining four games crucial. He had a productive first two seasons with the Steelers, but they were quick to offload him despite being a fellow rebuilding team.

With 2023 being the final season of Claypool’s rookie contract, he’ll seek an extension this offseason. He said “for sure” he had that in mind in his introductory news conference, and there’s no way general manager Ryan Poles viewed him as a rental when he gave up that draft pick.

The going rate for a wide receiver like Claypool likely would be $18-20 million per year, and the last thing Poles needs is to get ensnared in another contract standoff like he did with Smith.

Poles also is staring down a lengthy list of personnel problems to solve and needs to know whether Claypool is a solution. Poles definitely needs to add the best receiver possible in the draft or free agency, but if he doesn’t secure Claypool, he’ll need more.

The last four games, especially the next two against the Eagles’ and Bills’ exceptional pass defenses, are an opportunity for Claypool to erase any doubts stemming from his slow start.

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