The Bears brought in Cordarrelle Patterson in 2019 after a year when they finished last in the NFL in kick returns.
Patterson instantly transformed them into one of the best kick-return teams in the NFL, and possibly the most dangerous.
The value of this is highly debatable in an NFL where the kick return has been rendered almost useless by the rule mongers.
Patterson is a free agent now and of all the Bears free agent decisions, this ranks among the easiest. As much of a delight Patterson is in the locker room and as a threat when he does get the ball on kick returns, his cost far outweighs his value.
Last year Patterson led the NFC and was second in the NFL in kick return average at 29.06 yards. He cost the Bears $5.25 million against their salary cap after costing them $4.8 million in 2019 according to Overthecap.com.
The average cap cost of the next 10-best kick returners in the league was $1.06 million.
If the Bears ever found a way to truly harness this kick return explosiveness on offense, it would be worth a look at bringing Patterson back.
They haven't, and they are not the only team to experience this difficulty.
Patterson in his first year with the Bears proved he couldn't really fit into the offense at receiver. In 2020 they counted on him as the change-of-pace back when Tarik Cohen suffered a season-ending injury and as simply the backup running back to David Montgomery and neither really worked out well.
Patterson averaged only 3.6 yards per carry as a running back with a career-high 64 attempts. He had a long rushing attempt of only 13 yards.
Only with New England did Patterson show he could be a real threat as a running back. The Bears failed twice now to utilize this perceived talent. Even then, he had only 42 carries in that 2018 Super Bowl-winning season.
Patterson just doesn't have a running back's instinct of knowing where to cut back and which hole to take while in close proximity to the line of scrimmage. Even when they put him back in the I formation deep on rare occasion, he didn't really show a knack for this.
Patterson also provides another special teams value in punt coverage as a gunner but didn't experience much success this year in this regard, partly due to some minor injuries. Patterson got in on only four special teams tackles for the year, as 33-year-old special teams player Sherrick McManis had to lead them in special teams tackles.
They were one of the worst teams in the league at covering punts, ranking 28th overall and allowing 11.8 yards per return.
There's no way to judge how much teams surrendered in terms of protecting against his big-play potential on kicks. The squib kick or simply kicking out of the end zone are effective options to prevent a big Patterson return.
Considering the cost and fact the Bears currently are $10 million over the salary cap projection for 2021, Patterson would not be an expense they can afford unless he's taking a considerable pay cut to remain in town.
When there are plenty of other teams with an abundance of cap space who would be glad to add as a spare part a kick returner ranked second all time in return average, it's unlikely he'd be willing to take second-rate money to remain in Chicago.
Both the Bears and Patterson would be far better off going in different directions.
Top 2020 Kick Returners Cap Costs
(Rank, returner, team, yards per return, 2020 cap cost)
1. Andre Roberts, Bills, 30.03 ypr, $1.3 million
2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Bears, 29.06 ypr, $5.25 million
3. Isaiah Rodgers, Colts, 28.83 ypr, $646,000
4. Jamal Agnew, Lions, 27.96 ypr, $889,000
5. Devin Duvernay, Ravens, 27.52 ypr, $832,000
6. Brandon Wilson, Bengals, 26.21 ypr, $2.1 million
7. Corey Ballentine, Jets/Giants, 24.05 ypr, $965,000
8. Tony Pollard, Cowboys, 23.94 ypr, $842,000
9. Ray-Ray McCloud, Steelers, 23.07 ypr, $750,000
10. Dion Lewis, Giants, 22.42 ypr, $1.55 million
*Sources: Overthecap.com, Spotrac.com, NFL.com