In the strongest indication yet that wide receiver Johnny Knox' football career is over, the Bears terminated his contract on Tuesday.
It's been well over a year since the 26-year-old Knox absorbed a gruesome hit from Seahawks defensive end Anthony Hargrove on Dec. 18, 2011. The tackle bent the spindly Knox backward at the waist, causing structural, ligament and nerve damage in his back and necessitating spinal fusion surgery.
Already thin at 185 pounds, the 6-foot Knox lost 30 pounds after being incapacitated by the legal hit from the 6-foot-3, 272-pound Hargrove. It occurred after Knox scrambled to pick up a loose ball that he had fumbled after a 17-yard reception. Even late last season, a year after the surgery, Knox still appeared gaunt, and his rehabilitation had not progressed nearly as quickly as doctors originally hoped.
Though it became obvious that Knox was never going to step on the playing field last season, the Bears kept him on the physically-unable-to-perform list and paid him his full $1.26 million salary.
Although he was a lightly regarded fifth-round pick out of Abilene Christian University in 2009, Knox established himself almost immediately as a big-play threat.
He made the Pro Bowl as a kickoff returner in his rookie season, averaging 29.0 yards per attempt, second best in the NFL. He also caught 45 passes for 527 yards and finished second on the team with 5 touchdown receptions.
In each of the next two seasons, including his injury-marred final year, Knox led the Bears in receiving yards. In 2010 he had 960 yards on 51 catches for an 18.8-yard average, which was fifth best in the NFL. He averaged 19.6 yards on 37 catches in '11 before he was hurt.
Knox' career average of 16.6 yards per reception was seventh best during his time in the NFL.
Since Knox' injury, the Bears have struggled to replace him as a deep threat in their passing offense, a shortcoming they hope to address in the off-season, either through the draft or free agency.