Arkush: Bears new GM, head coach will find gaping hole at wide receiver
There is very little to be sure about surrounding the Chicago Bears right now, other than whoever lands the general manager and head coach jobs will be inheriting one of the worst wide receiver deficits in the NFL.
Current legitimate NFL receivers under contract include Darnell Mooney, a cast of one.
Beyond that there is Dazz Newsome, Nsimba Webster and Isaiah Coulter.
How did things get so bad, so quickly?
Clearly the linchpin was the strange saga of Allen Robinson.
According to multiple sources, based on where the wide receiver market finally settled last offseason, the Bears' last offer was much closer to the market price than Robinson's final demand. The team quickly put the franchise tag on him, guaranteeing Robinson $17.98 million, but far short of the $40 million to $60 million in guarantees he sought as one of the top 10 receivers in the game.
On the field, after back-to-back seasons in which Robinson had 200 catches for nearly 2,400 yards and 13 touchdowns -- all while starting all 32 games -- Robinson missed five games this season due to a hamstring injury and a stint on the COVID-19 list. He saw his targets drop from 154 in the 2019 season and 151 in 2020 to just 66 this year. He caught only 38 for 410 yards and one TD.
The most telling stat we see is Robinson averaging a consistent 9.5 targets a game in '19 and '20, and just 5.5 this past season.
Some of it was Justin Fields' slow development reading coverages and seeing the field. The tape reveals numerous times a wide-open Robinson was left either waving his arms or looking back in frustration.
There was also Fields' never quite grasping what offensive coordinator Bill Lazor called "NFL open," which means trusting your No. 1 receiver will break free from coverage even before you make your throw.
But putting it all on Fields ignores the bigger issue.
While Robinson targets were disappearing, Mooney's increased by 33% to 8.2 a game, and second-year tight end Cole Kmet's targets went up 150% to 5.5 per game.
Again, a lot of that can be traced to Fields. But it was also clear, as early as training camp, that a passing game coordinated in 2020 by Dave Ragone, who left to be the offensive coordinator in Atlanta following that season, had been redesigned to work off of Mooney and Kmet, with Robinson as a second or third option.
The sum of all those parts left the Bears with the worst passing game in the NFL and Robinson heading back to free agency chasing at least $25 million to $30 million in guarantees that he is unlikely to find now.
Whether any of Robinson's drop-off was due to physical changes was impossible to tell, due to the offensive dysfunction and poor quarterback play.
Two other receivers signed as free agents by the Bears last season for their unique speed, Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd, never made any real impact and both came on one-year deals.
What the Bears do next obviously depends on the short- and long-range plans of the new GM and coach.
They will have plenty to spend in free agency, but only second-, third-, two fifth- and sixth-round draft picks.
The assumption has been that Robinson is gone. But who knows, now that the front office he failed with in negotiations is gone, his recently professed "mad love" for Chicago, the reality that the best he can hope for now elsewhere is a one-year prove-it deal probably in the $8 million to $10 million dollar range, and the fact he has already made over $62 million playing the game.
Wideouts can be found throughout the draft as we've seen with Robinson, who was a late second-round pick, and Mooney was taken in the fifth round.
Six of the top 10 receivers in the league this year -- Cooper Kupp (3rd round), Davante Adams (2nd), Deebo Samuel (2nd), Stefon Diggs (5th), Tyler Lockett (3rd), Diontae Johnson (3rd) -- were drafted after Day 1.
Top free agents in the market this year are Adams, Chris Godwin, Christian Kirk, Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Adams will be 30 and Godwin, Kirk and Smith-Schuster are the only ones younger at 26.
All we know for sure is no one will be searching for receiving help harder than the Bears.