As a franchise, the Chicago Bears are finally on solid ground. Thanks to competent management and coaches, the young, affordable roster is rounding out to be competitive in the NFC North for the next several years.
Still, a few key players are nearing contract negotiations and could miss out on Chicago’s upcoming championship window. Members of the 2020 draft class are entering the final year of their contracts and will look to earn new deals.
Tight end Cole Kmet and cornerback Jaylon Johnson appear to be fixtures of the team, but wide receiver Darnell Mooney and edge rusher Trevis Gipson will need big seasons to remain in Chicago.
Mooney’s work ethic and chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields catapulted him into the spotlight as one of Chicago’s few offensive playmakers last season. With DJ Moore and Chase Claypool on the roster, he should get to settle into a supporting receiver role, drawing easier coverage matchups and creating greater opportunities.
Unfortunately, Mooney suffered a season-ending ankle injury in week 12 of last year. He’s not yet 100% and the team hopes he’ll to be ready for training camp this summer.
Now entering the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, general manager Ryan Poles will have to determine if it is worth extending last season’s leading receiver. Work ethic and likeability aren’t enough to warrant a new contract on a rebuilding team, as we saw with veteran running back David Montgomery in free agency.
Mooney will have to post impressive numbers this year, similar to former Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen in 2016. As the “WR2” behind Stefon Diggs and later Justin Jefferson, Thielen is a perfect example of a high-value, supporting weapon who creates mismatches against linebackers and depth corners. In 2016, just before earning his first big contract (a four-year, $19 million deal), Thielen racked up 967 yards and five touchdowns.
The Vikings’ investment paid off, as the former Minnesota State Maverick recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2017 and 2018.
If Mooney stays healthy, his connection with Fields should pay off in a big way. However, with veteran receivers under the age of 30 at a premium in the league, the Bears may have competition for his next contract.
Overall, the Bears’ defensive line performed terribly in 2022. Even after selecting defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens in this year’s draft, Chicago still has one of the league’s worst units.
The Bears had high hopes for Gipson following Khalil Mack’s departure. In 2021, while Mack sat on injured reserve for much of the season, Gipson recorded seven sacks and forced five fumbles. In 2022, he got to the quarterback only three times and didn’t cause any turnovers.
The Bears have a massive hole to fill at EDGE and some would like to see Poles bring in more competition right away. Should Gipson step up and have a career season with more than 10 sacks, he could be the in-house solution.