LAKE FOREST — New Bears returner Jakeem Grant will likely be in uniform Sunday in Las Vegas, ready to return punts and maybe even kicks.
But that’s not the only role he’s eying after getting traded from the Miami Dolphins Tuesday for a 2023 sixth round pick.
“That's what it all comes down to for me and I felt like I wasn't getting the opportunities (in Miami),” Grant said. "The trade, to me, I look at it as another opportunity, more opportunities to get out there, especially on the offensive side.”
In talking with Grant Thursday at Halas Hall, it’s apparent that he expects to have a role in the Bears’ offense once he gets up to speed in the playbook.
“More in the slot, moved around like a chess piece, and getting mismatched on guys, getting mismatched on linebackers, any nickel or star, whatever,” Grant said. “Honestly, whatever the coaches want to put me at to get me rolling, I’m fine with.”
It sure sounds like the role Tarik Cohen had before tearing his ACL in 2020. Cohen was technically a running back, but he had a prominent role running routes out of the slot in the passing game and served as the team’s primary punt returner.
Cohen was somewhat of a luxury piece on offense, but it’s a role they clearly valued, giving him a three-year, $17.25 million extension just a week before he went down with the injury. Currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list with no sign of returning anytime soon, the trade for Grant makes more sense in the context of Cohen’s role on the team. The Bears haven’t been able to adequately replace him as a returner and, before the trade for Grant, there wasn’t really anyone on the roster capable of filling his speciality role on offense.
At 5-7, 171 pounds, Grant is actually listed considerably lighter than Cohen (5-6, 196) and probably won’t be the same weapon out of the backfield, but he could make an impact in the passing game as a receiver. Last year, Grant caught 36 passes for 373 yards on 54 targets — all career highs. He was a second-team All-Pro as a punt returner.
“I mean, coming off the year I had last year, I was thinking under no uncertainty that I would have a bigger role increase and I was one of their key guys, but it's the business of the game, man. So I mean, I'm not mad. I'm not anything, just ready to go,” Grant said.
It’s always a red flag when a team trades a player like that for a late-round draft pick, but the Bears had a need and obviously like Grant as a player. On the return side, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor admitted the joint practices with the Dolphins in August helped them identify Grant as a potential target. They showed enough interest at the time that Grant wasn’t completely surprised he ended up back at Halas Hall this week.
“Yeah, I mean, I talked to the special teams coach and I talked to a lot of guys around here and they said they loved me, so it kind of, yeah, that like red flag went up and I was like, OK, it could be a potential coming back here,” Grant said.
The returner should make an immediate impact on special teams this weekend in Las Vegas, but don’t be surprised if a role on offense follows. Given the complexity of the offensive system, it will take a few weeks to get up to speed, but the Bears now have another interesting weapon for Justin Fields to use.