The Bears need to find Mitch Trubisky some players to throw to this season, and that process begins next week when teams are allowed to begin negotiating contracts with free agents on March 12. There might not be an elite receiver set to hit the open market, but there are plenty of solid players who could be fits for the Bears. A look at five of those guys:
Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams seems prepared to let Watkins test the open market, but after catching eight touchdowns a year ago in the Sean McVay/Jared Goff offense, would he really want to leave? Or, alternatively, would the Bears be willing to potentially overpay to lure him away from Los Angeles? Watkins, for what it’s worth, only caught 39 of his 70 targets last year and missed eight games as recently as the 2016 season.
Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks
Richardson tore his ACL and suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in 2015, which muted the former second-round pick’s promise a bit in Seattle. He flashed some good downfield skills in 2017, catching 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns while playing in all 16 games. He’d be a good option to be a deep threat for Trubisky and might even be a better one than Watkins.
Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars
If the Jaguars can’t come to agreement with Allen Robinson — which might not be a slam dunk anymore — perhaps they’ll do what they can to keep Lee, who’s averaged 63 catches for 828 yards the last two years. But either way, things might be trending toward both receivers hitting the open market.
Lee is 26 and has only missed two games in the last two years, which could make him an attractive target to add to the injury-ravaged Bears receiving corps. But how the market develops for Robinson will be fascinating — would the Bears be willing to offer more years and more guaranteed money to a guy coming off a torn ACL? That question is complicated by the fact that the Bears’ best receiver on their current roster, Cam Meredith, is coming off a torn ACL, too. Money isn’t necessarily an object for the Bears, who could have around $90 million in cap space if they release Markus Wheaton and Marcus Cooper, but signing an injured receiver while Meredith and Kevin White are on the mend does carry risk.
But Robinson, when healthy, is one of the best receivers in the league. He won’t turn 25 until August and racked up 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns while being targeted 302 times between 2015 and 2016. If the Bears can land Robinson and get him healthy, he’d immediately be the best target for Trubisky, and one who could help the entire passing game merely by his presence.
Either way, the Bears could target either of these Jaguars receivers, given Jacksonville probably doesn’t have the cap space to keep them both.
Mike Wallace, Baltimore Ravens
Wallace turns 32 in August but showed in Baltimore he still has some tread on his tires, following a 1,000-yard 2016 season with 52 receptions for 748 yards (14.4 yards/reception) in 2017. He only missed one game last year and prior to that played in all 16 games for four consecutive seasons. The Bears would be gambling against an age-related regression, and he might not be the elite deep threat he once was (on average, passes thrown to him traveled 12.9 yards, about the same as those intended for Dontrelle Inman). But depending on what kind of contract Wallace commands on the open market, bringing in a veteran with Super Bowl experience for Trubisky could be a good thing.
Albert Wilson, Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach’s reaction to a question about his hopes of re-signing Wilson told it all last week at the NFL Combine: “Well, Matt’s in Chicago.” Matt, of course, is Matt Nagy, the Bears’ head coach who most recently was Kansas City’s offensive coordinator.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Wilson caught 42 passes for 554 yards with the Chiefs last year and would be a good scheme fit for Nagy’s spiced-up West Coast offense. Signing him, if the Bears don’t pull off a blockbuster trade for Miami's Jarvis Landry, would give Trubisky a reliable slot target who knows Nagy’s offense well.
“He is a very tough player,” Veach said. “He does everything from the slot to the outside, he can block, and he can return if you need him to. He is a very valuable commodity for us and certainly has done a lot for us the last few years.”
The Bears’ free-agent plans could crystallize before March 12 if they were to pull off a blockbuster trade for Landry. NBC Sports Chicago colleague John “Moon” Mullin reported the Bears have discussed a mega-trade that would ship Jordan Howard and the No. 8 pick to the Dolphins for Landry, the No. 11 pick and a third-round pick. Yes, a ding against Landry’s game is that he only averaged 8.8 yards per reception in 2017, but he averaged 11.2 yards per reception during the 2015 and 2016 seasons and has never missed a game in his four years in the league.
Wilson would be a cheaper option, but the Bears need productive receivers, and Landry certainly is productive. Some other options who are on the market, if the Bears were or were not to acquire Landry: Ryan Grant, Eric Decker, Donte Moncrief, Jaron Brown, Taylor Gabriel, Terrelle Pryor and John Brown. Expect Pace to cast a wide net to find receivers for Trubisky.