Chase Claypool deal comes with a catch for Bears

The Bears paid a premium — a second-round draft pick that could be No. 33 overall — to acquire Claypool as a play-making receiver for Justin Fields. Establishing a connection with Fields in the final four games will go a long way to making it pay off.

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Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool goes all out for a Justin Fields pass against the Dolphins on Nov. 6 at Soldier Field.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times, Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

All eyes will be on quarterback Justin Fields as the 3-10 Bears try to finish a rebuilding season with the arrow pointing up heading into the 2023 season. 

Fields, perhaps modestly, has fulfilled the most important requirement of the Bears’ first season under general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. He has established himself as the quarterback the Bears will build around in 2023. More progress in the passing game over the final four games would be nice. But at this point, if Fields is still standing when it’s over, the Bears will head into the offseason with more hope than doubt. At Halas Hall, that’s progress. 

Beyond Fields, there will be other key players to watch as potential foundation pieces: 

  • Can rookie safety Jaquan Brisker and rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon return after missing two games in concussion protocol to build upon promising first seasons and provide hope for a disappointing defense? 
  • Is linebacker Jack Sanborn — with 54 tackles in five starts since the Roquan Smith trade — the real deal? 
  • Are rookie left tackle Braxton Jones and second-year right guard Teven Jenkins locked in as building blocks on the offensive line? 
  • Will former first-round draft pick Alex Leatherwood get a chance to prove he’s a starting tackle on a playoff team — and is four games enough to do that?

But after Fields, wide receiver Chase Claypool stands above the rest as a focal point in the final month of the season. The Bears gave up their own second-round draft pick in 2023 to acquire Claypool from the Steelers in Week 9 — currently No. 34 overall (and really No. 33 because the Dolphins forfeited their first-round pick this season as punishment for tampering). 

By giving the Steelers their own second-round pick instead of the one they acquired from the Ravens for Smith, the Bears currently have dropped 23 spots in the second round to get him — from No. 33 to No. 56 (pending the Ravens’ playoff results).

The benefit is that Claypool is here now. In theory, he’s using his nine games with the Bears to get acclimated to Luke Getsy’s offense and develop a rapport with Fields that will allow the pair to hit the ground running in 2023 — instead of the usual learning/chemistry process with a draft pick. (Packers receiver Christian Watson was the 34th overall pick in last year’s draft.)

Claypool’s production so far has been modest — 12 receptions for 111 yards (9.3 average) and no touchdowns on 22 targets in five games (145 snaps). Getsy’s offense isn’t built for even a big and fast receiver like Claypool to make an immediate impact, the Bears say. 

“Coming from where he came from, there’s still routes he’s never run before,” wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said before the Packers game. “But he’s a very smart guy, and he’s taking coaching — in-between periods when the defense is out there doing some stuff. 

“Is he where we want him to be? No. But no one is. No one’s ever where you want them to be. But I like coaching him. He’s a coachable guy. He’s a smart guy. He’s got size and hands. He’s got speed. He can do a lot of things. I think it’s just to continue to build off what he’s done so far, and hopefully it’ll turn into some production.” 

Tolbert said he expects Claypool having full participation in the offseason program to accelerate that progress. 

“Absolutely,” Tolbert said. “Because in the offseason you can work with a guy day-in and day-out; work with the quarterback on-campus and off-campus. He’s coming in in the middle of the season. We’re teaching him the game plan, but not necessarily the genesis of the offense. We don’t have time to go through all that part of it. [It’s] ‘This is where you line up. This is what you run.’ Once we get to the offseason, I think it’ll be much better.”

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