The most important position battles are usually between players fighting for a roster spot. However, the Bears’ paramount duel this season might be between two players who will be counted on to play vital roles on offense in Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney.
They are both entering a contract year, and the odds of the Bears re-signing them both seem slim after the team added D.J. Moore to the receiving room this offseason.

Claypool’s tenure with the Bears has gone from disappointing to downright confusing. His first (half) season in Chicago couldn’t have gone much worse. The Bears gave up a second-round pick to acquire him ahead of the trade deadline, but he caught only 14 passes and was a complete non-factor over the final seven games.

Reports out of camp this offseason were initially (extremely) positive. Both Justin Fields and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy gave glowing endorsements of the 24-year-old pass-catcher. However, the narrative shifted in the complete opposite direction after conflicting reports said the Bears were disappointed with the pass-catcher progress as he battled through soft-tissue injuries throughout OTAs.

It is uncertain how the Bears brass actually feels about Claypool at this point, but the truth from those reports probably lies somewhere in the middle. It’s entirely possible that they feel disappointed and hopeful at the same time. He hasn’t shown much promise since arriving in the Windy City, but it wouldn’t have mattered much if he were a standout at OTAs. It’s June, and everything that happens right now should get taken with a grain of salt.

What is not uncertain is the fact that they saw enough in Claypool to trade a second-round selection for him. His size makes him stand out (quite literally) from the rest of the Bears pass-catchers, as he is 6’4″ and 238 pounds. When he is on, the big-bodied receiver could aid Fields’ development in making tight window throws, as he can use his wide frame to box out defenders at the catch point.

The case for re-signing Darnell Mooney to a long-term deal is an easier one to make right now. He looked like a rising star during a breakout sophomore campaign, in which he eclipsed the 1000-yard mark, before coming back down to earth last season. However, he will benefit from the addition of Moore, who should command significant attention from opposing defenses.

Mooney will no longer be counted on to be the top dog in the passing game, which could allow him to thrive as he did opposite Allen Robinson. He looked like one of the league’s best number-two pass-catchers earlier in his career, and it would not be surprising to see him regain that status if all goes well this year. With that said, there are many more mouths to feed on offense, and the Bears could spread the ball around more than in years past, limiting his ceiling.

The Bears could certainly keep both players if they sign them to team-friendly deals. However, the odds of that happening seem very unlikely.

If one (or both) of them find themselves in a position to take a team-friendly deal, that probably means they did not perform up to expectations this year.

In which case, one would think they would opt to take a prove-it deal with another team rather than running it back with Chicago.

On the other hand, one factor that could lead them to sign on the dotted line for a cheaper contract is Justin Fields. If the signal-caller develops into one of the game’s elite quarterbacks this year, then that could make them more inclined to stick around, which leads me to my next hypothetical…

What if Claypool and Mooney both thrive this season?

It is not hard to see a scenario where both pass-catchers thrive if the offense takes a leap in the second season under Luke Getsy’s scheme. While this is obviously a best-case scenario for this season, it could make re-signing them much more difficult in the offseason. Considering that both of them have had success in the past, they fit the bill of the type of player who breaks the bank in free agency.

With D.J. Moore signed through 2025, there is virtually no way the Bears could commit to all three players long-term if Mooney and Claypool demand $10+ million a year next year. The selection of Tyler Scott in the fourth round of this year’s draft indicates that they have considered this scenario, as he has enough talent to play a larger role on offense if necessary.

As of right now, Mooney’s previous success within the organization and familiarity with the Fields probably gives him a leg up in the competition. However, the fact that the regime traded a second-round selection for Claypool might make him the more logical re-sign candidate, especially if he bounces back strong this year.

All things considered, this year will be vital for both players. Neither of them will eat into the others playing time this season, but chances are they are competing for the number-two receiver spot.
On the bright side, this could bring out the best in both of them. In fact, I’d go as far as to say there are much bigger issues at hand if this situation doesn’t ignite their competitive fire.

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