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How Numbers Add Up for Darnell Mooney

Analysis: Lack of production for two seasons, a new offensive coordinator and available marketplace options can mean either an exit point or a rebirth in Chicago.

When Bears general manager Ryan Poles spoke about Jaylon Johnson's possible free agency, he said their All-Pro cornerback wasn't going anywhere.

Asked about Darnell Mooney, the tone was quite a bit different. Poles started talking about buckets. It's his favorite way of describing where they have players lumped in talent level for free agency or the draft.

"We'll evaluate the whole year and like I told a lot of guys that are free agents, we'll be in contact with them in terms of our direction," Poles said. "There's different buckets. There's guys that are going to have to go test the market and see what's out there and maybe circle back.

"I know Mooney wishes he played a little bit better this year and things went better for him and made some more connections, but I know he's going to bounce back and have a really good career."

"Buckets" and "testing the market," wishing he "played better," knowing he'll "bounce back" and finally, have a "really good career." It doesn't take skills at reading tea leaves to figure what this is about.

Mooney has had two straight down seasons compared with how he started out in the league. One was due to injury but the other after he had plenty of time to recover from what was not a career-threatening surgery. 

The one saving grace for Mooney in terms of staying in Chicago would be his production during his first two years. This is offset by the fact it came under a different coach, in a different offense and when he was totally healthy. Getting his 2022 season cut short by injury was one thing, then coming back with a career-worst season was the real problem.

Taking missed games out of it, Mooney averaged 7.2 targets a game in his first two years. He averaged 4.5 targets a game in the past two seasons. 

Last year, Mooney had 11 games when he made two receptions or less.

The common denominator here was Luke Getsy's offense for the last two years and Matt Nagy's in the first two years. Another possible explanation was all the targets that went to DJ Moore and to tight end Cole Kmet, but they had Allen Robinson and Kmet in Mooney's first two years and Mooney had far greater production then.

Could Mooney bounce back now with a different coordinator and possibly a different QB? It's entirely possible.

The key factor is the Bears could actually do better both in free agency and in the draft than Mooney's numbers in any of those years considering the cash. says Mooney is worth a $10.4 million contract per year. Pro Football Focus projects him at $9 million per year.

Gabe Davis, Curtis Samuel, Marquise Brown, DJ Chark, Odell Beckham Jr. and Tyler Boyd are receivers projected in the same "bucket" cash-wise by Spotrac and PFF. Would Mooney rate a better option? They could spend a little more, say $5 million to $7 million more a year and come back with a real free agent impact receiver. Tee Higgins would be worth $18.6 million a year according to projections.

With a decent number of draft picks coming their way this year, the Bears can also find a competent younger pass catcher who gets paid less. 

Because DJ Moore had more targets than the rest of the team's wide receivers combined, there's probably a good chance they'd draft one AND sign a free agent.

With the changes on offense and possibly at quarterback, his lack of production the last two years and the cost efficiency involved, it seems too convenient of an exit or cut-off point.

The Bears also have a role player in free agency in terms of Equanimeous St. Brown. This is the case of a player who was on their roster entirely because of Getsy. He helped with the installation of the offense after coming from Green Bay.

St. Brown also had a reputation as one of the NFL's best blockers among receivers.

That's somewhat like being the best defensively at dropping into pass coverage among all edge rushers. It's wonderful, but it's not what you're on the team to do. St. Brown made 26 receptions on 44 targets in two seasons. The goal for this next Bears offense is to increase all aspects of the passing game, from the thrower to the receivers. Finding more players capable of getting open and catching the ball takes greater priority over blocking receivers.

Bears UFA Projections

WR Darnell Mooney

Measurements: 5-foot-11, 173

Age: 26

2023 Cap Cost: $3.06 million

2023 Production: 31 catches, 61 targets, 1 TD, 13.4 ypc, 50.8% catch/target.

Years with Bears: 4

Years in the NFL: 4

BearDigest 2024 UFA Projection: Leaving

WR Equanimeous St. Brown

Measurements: 6-5, 214

Age: 27

2023 Cap Cost: $1.2 million

2023 Production: 5 catches, 6 targets, 0 TD, 12.4 ypc, 83.3% catch/targets.

Years with Bears: 2

Years in the NFL: 6

BearDigest 2024 UFA Projection: Leaving

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