Pro Bowl KR Jakeem Grant sets sights on returning to Bears in free agency
The Bears traded for Grant because they needed a reliable return man. He turned out to be more than that.
LAS VEGAS — Being traded to the Bears might have saved return man/receiver Jakeem Grant’s career. Now he’s hoping to enjoy whatever future he secured for himself in a Pro Bowl season with them rather than leave in free agency.
The Bears acquired Grant from the Dolphins for a 2023 sixth-round draft pick in October because they desperately needed a reliable kick and punt returner. They wound up getting much more.
Grant was one of only two players in the NFL to return a punt for a touchdown this season and was third in the league with an average of 11.9 yards per punt return. He also was a factor on offense, which was an idea on which the Dolphins had given up. He flashed potential during a four-game stretch late in the season in which he caught nine passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns and rushed three times for 16 yards.
He hopes that, along with a career body of work that includes other bursts of production at receiver, will appeal to new coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Because as much as Grant ‘‘definitely’’ wants to re-sign, the organization has been remade and none of the people who brought him to the Bears are around anymore.
‘‘I think they’ll see what I bring to the table,’’ Grant told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘Getsy is a young guy who likes to throw the ball. So when he sees me, I think he’ll understand that I’m a guy who can get open, especially in the slot. We can get things moving downfield.’’
Grant doesn’t mind the challenge of having to prove himself again, even at 29 and six years into his career. He’s used to it.
At Pro Bowl practice this week, he joked he was on a field trip with his ‘‘uncle,’’ Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn. And given Grant’s stature at 5-7, it was almost believable.
He was only a three-star prospect when Texas Tech recruited him before emerging as a dangerous receiver as a redshirt sophomore. In his last three seasons in college, he totaled 3,002 yards and 24 touchdown catches.
But those stats, plus a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash, were only good enough to make him a sixth-round pick (No. 186 overall) in 2016. Ten of the receivers drafted ahead of him are already out of the NFL. (The Bears chose safety and special-teams standout DeAndre Houston-Carson one spot ahead of Grant that year, by the way.)
It took Grant until his third season to establish himself as an offensive player. He got 47% of the snaps under coach Adam Gase in 2018 and had 21 catches for 268 yards and two touchdowns.
Then the Dolphins fired Gase and replaced him with Brian Flores. It was time for Grant to start over.
Grant put up a career-high 393 yards from scrimmage in 2020 but fell out of favor with the coaches again this season. He played only 17 snaps in the first four games before the Dolphins dealt him to the Bears.
‘‘I definitely wanted to have a fresh start,’’ Grant said. ‘‘Things were not going as planned, and being there was not gonna be great for my career.’’
Instead, after boosting his stock with the Bears, he’s sure to have options now that his contract is up and he’ll hit free agency next month.
While general manager Ryan Poles and the incoming staff might have reservations about Grant on offense, there’s no question the Bears need him as a returner. Even that will require Grant to convince someone new, however, because Eberflus will bring in a new special-teams coordinator to replace Chris Tabor.
Grant, of course, is undeterred.
‘‘I’ve definitely pushed the notion that I can be a threat on offense, so I think they can use me a lot more,’’ he said. ‘‘If the chips fall right, I’ll be back in Chicago.’’