After Darnell Mooney, Bears’ WRs room is a free-for-all
Even Mooney still has plenty of climbing to get to where he wants to be. The rest of the group is full of players fighting for their careers.
None of the dozen wide receivers the Bears have in training camp has arrived as a star — or even as a surefire long-term pro — and it has created an ultra-competitive environment as they vie for spots.
The best among them is Darnell Mooney, who has done nothing but ascend since arriving as a fifth-round pick two years ago and topped 1,000 yards last season. While he’s still out to prove he can be a legitimate No. 1 receiver, there’s no question he’s the ace of the group.
Who’s next? Could be anyone.
Byron Pringle and third-round pick Velus Jones will be on the final roster and get their shot. Newcomers N’Keal Harry and Equanimeous St. Brown could go either way. David Moore and Dante Pettis face the reality that this might be their last shot. Dazz Newsome and Isaiah Coulter were practice-squad players last season.
St. Brown said Saturday he never has been part of a receiver competition in which it feels as though pretty much anybody could end up being the No. 2 in the room — or cut.
Other than Mooney, none has put up 600-plus yards in a season. Seven got cut last season, and Pringle isn’t far removed from fighting his way back onto the roster after the Chiefs cut him in 2019. Moore was with five organizations in the 2021 calendar year.
Only two of them have a seven-digit salary-cap hit. Almost all of them — not Mooney or Jones — are likely to hit free agency after the season.
‘‘All of those guys, the urgency is very high,’’ offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said.
So, yes, the receiver room is crowded. But it’s a different kind of crowded than what the Rams and Bengals have. Those teams are trying to figure out whether there are enough targets to go around among a host of Pro Bowl-caliber players.
This is what rebuilds look like. And as the Bears wait for the windfall of cap space and draft capital coming in 2023, they’re hoping to push this project ahead of schedule by finding some long-term answers this season.
St. Brown is exactly the type of player who might help. He didn’t overwhelm anyone with 16 catches in 25 games in the last two seasons with the Packers, but that roster was well-fortified with established talent.
‘‘All those guys . . . that we got from other places, I wouldn’t necessarily say they didn’t stick,’’ Getsy said. ‘‘They were places where they had elite guys.’’
Now those guys are in a place where nothing is in their way. Sure, Mooney’s at the top, but there are no other foregone conclusions. And he’s eager for help.
The receivers are mostly young, but it’s never too early for a career crossroads in the NFL. St. Brown has had three seasons to show something since breaking into the league as a sixth-round pick, and he turns 26 in September. There’s no denying the clock is ticking.
‘‘Definitely, yeah,’’ he said. ‘‘You can only play so many years, especially at wideout. . . . You have to make the most of your time while you’re in the NFL.’’
While it certainly would be preferable to look around — as the two most recent Super Bowl participants do — and see a surplus of bona fide threats, that’s simply not realistic for the Bears at this stage. The Bengals went 2-14 in 2019 before adding 1,000-yard men Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase in the next two draft classes. It takes awhile when you’re starting from scratch.
This season, however, the Bears are hoping the big-picture implications of their musical-chairs game will spark just the right amount of desperation in the receivers so that some of them claw their way into the team’s future.