As expected, the Chicago Bears parted ways with both general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy at the end of the 2021 regular season. The results didn't always present themselves on the field, and their personnel decisions were head-scratching at times.
So now the team is moving forward in a different direction. Ryan Poles, who was previously the Kansas City Chiefs' executive director of player personnel, was hired as the new general manager on Jan. 25. Shortly after that, Poles hired former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to be the team's new head coach.
The Bears have 24 pending unrestricted free agents on their roster (per Spotrac.com) and also have some decisions to make about veteran players that are under contract. It'll be the job of the new front office and coaching staff to decide which players will be a part of the rebuilding effort.
One area where some difficult decisions need to be made is wide receiver, where the Bears have four players ready to hit the open market. It's also a position that wasn't as productive in 2021 as it was in previous seasons. Eberflus has hired Tyke Tolbert as passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach. Tolbert has been coaching in the NFL for 19 years, including the past four as the Giants' wide receivers coach. He also previously served in the same capacity for Denver, Carolina, Buffalo, and Arizona.
Here is how the Bears currently stack up at wideout.
Allen Robinson II
The eight-year NFL veteran has been the focal point of the Bears' passing attack since joining the team in 2018. He initially signed a three-year, $42 million deal upon arriving in the Windy City and quickly outplayed that contract. He deserved a new contract after 2020 but was never able to come to an agreement on one with the front office.
Playing on the franchise tag in 2021 (worth $17 million), Robinson was among the many Bears players who not only found themselves on the COVID-19 list but also dealt with nagging injuries during the course of the season. As a result, Robinson posted the second-lowest season totals of his career. He finished the campaign with just 38 catches (fourth on the team), 410 receiving yards (third), 10.8 yards per reception (seventh), and just one touchdown pass.
Now the Bears have to make a very big decision regarding Robinson's future. Do they give him the long-term deal he absolutely deserves, do they franchise him again, or do they let him walk and move on? Ultimately, what the franchise decides to do with Robinson will have an effect on quarterback Justin Fields.
If Robinson does not return next season, then Mooney will take over as the team's No. 1 receiver. With the injuries to Robinson and others, Mooney gave Bears fans something to be happy about in 2021. He played in all 17 games and finished tied for 18th in the NFL in receptions (81), third in the NFC North in receiving yards (1,055, trailing only Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams), and first on the team in touchdown catches (4). The Bears have him under contract for the next two seasons. And if he continues to produce in this manner, the Bears would be wise to give him a long-term deal. Especially if they don't hang onto Robinson.
Byrd's biggest moment of the season came against Seattle. After Jimmy Graham caught what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown pass, Byrd sealed the deal by jumping over two Seahawks defenders to snag the two-point conversion attempt from Nick Foles. In the end, Byrd caught 26 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown. Fourteen of those receptions came over the team's final five games. But will his late-season surge be enough to earn a new contract with the Bears? Byrd is set to become a free agent.
The Bears gave Goodwin an opportunity after he sat out the 2020 season due to the pandemic. Although his numbers weren't eye-popping (20 rec., 313 yds., 15.6 ypr, TD catch in 14 games), he did have an solid midseason stretch of games. From Weeks 6-11, Goodwin caught 10 balls for 214 yards and his lone touchdown. It came during a time when the Bears were dealing with both injuries and COVID-19 issues. Goodwin, 31, is another pending free agent, and the new regime may want to go younger at this position.
Jakeem Grant Sr.
The Bears traded a 2023 sixth-round pick to Miami for Grant last October because of their litany of injuries, and he made his presence felt across the board. In 11 games with Chicago (he played four games for the Dolphins before getting traded), Grant totaled 139 receiving yards, 33 rushing yards, 250 punt return yards, 493 kick return yards, and three total touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was an electrifying 97-yard punt return against Green Bay in Week 14. Grant finished third in the league with 11.9 yards per punt return and was one of only two players to return a punt for a touchdown this past season, helping him to a Pro Bowl nod as a return specialist. Another pending free agent, the Bears would be wise to at least see what it would cost to re-sign Grant.
A sixth-round pick out of North Carolina, Newsome only played in three games with one start. He caught two passes for 23 yards on five targets in those three games and was also used some on punt returns (6 ret., 75 yds.). The team remains high on Newsome's potential upside, and he should get plenty of opportunities to impress the new coaching staff and claim a bigger role in 2022.
Coulter has played in just four games since Houston drafted him in the fifth round (No. 171 overall) in 2020. He has played in four games, including three for the Bears last season, who signed Coulter to a reserve/future contract in January. He's another young player with a golden opportunity to make a name for himself this offseason.
Webster also signed a reserve/future contract. Webster has been in the league three seasons, spending his first two with the Rams and then some brief time with the 49ers last summer before the Bears claimed him off waivers prior to the start of the 2021 campaign. Webster's biggest impact has come on special teams, as he's averaging 22.4 yards per kickoff return and six yards per punt return. A wide receiver in college, Webster has yet to catch a pass in the NFL.
At this point, the safest bets at wide receiver for the 2022 roster appear to be Mooney and Newsome. After that, the Bears have plenty of decisions to make, starting with whether to try to re-sign Robinson. Between free agency and the draft, this position will likely look very different in a few months.
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.