Why Taylor Gabriel Had Cruelest of Bears' Fates
All injuries are difficult in the NFL because they spoil the time and effort put in by the individual player and team.
Some are more difficult than others, though, and the Bears had to deal with their share of tough ones in 2019 with Akiem Hicks' elbow, Roquan Smith torn pectoral muscle, Kyle Long's career-ending hip or groin injury, Danny Trevathan's elbow, and three season-enders to tight ends.
Smith's was especially rough because it not only was a season-ender, but he had just begun to play his best football after getting past an unspecified personal issue earlier.
Yet none of those compare to the concussions suffered by wide receiver Taylor Gabriel.
Gabriel seemed headed for a season at least as productive as 2018. However, on the same night he put his name alongside some heady company in record books, his season took a drastic downturn. After he fought back, the same thing happened again except this time it was for the rest of the year and maybe his career.
Gabriel had the big night against the Redskins when he caught three touchdown passes in the same quarter, becoming the first player in 49 years of Monday Night Football to score three TDs in the first half. He also was the first Bear with three in one quarter since Gale Sayers in 1965.
Later in the same game Gabriel went out with a concussion.
It caused him to miss the win over Minnesota and then the crushing loss to Oakland in London. How much would it have helped Chase Daniel on the drive when he threw the interception to have Gabriel available on the field with his speed and savvy?
Gabriel did come back from it and made a huge touchdown catch on a perfect route and accurate throw from Mitchell Trubisky against the New York Giant. The Bears were still hanging around the playoff chase then with a 19-14 win. But just like against Washington, when Gabriel had the big moment he then suffered a concussion in the same game, Now the future looks murky for Gabriel as a Bear at best.
Gabriel had also missed three games in 2015 with a concussion in Cleveland and one game in 2016 with a concussion in Atlanta.
"Concussions are always an issue," coach Matt Nagy said at the time of Gabriel's last concussion. "You want to make sure you're protecting the player and you want to be smart with the team, so we'll just kind of see where that goes."
For Gabriel, it meant the end of the season. He missed the last five games. What difference could one more speedy, versatile receiver like Gabriel have made to Trubisky in the middle of the field when the Bears were trying to get along without three tight ends and had no running game? It's one of the most difficult situations of last season, no doubt.
For Gabriel it's much bigger than just last year. It could mean the end to his career, or his time in Chicago at the very least.
Former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had to quit due to concussions. It happens too often in the NFL, even as they try to take measures to counter it.
If Gabriel is able to play again, it might be elsewhere because of his contract and the risk of further injury. Also, the presence of the two young Georgia receivers behind him, Javon Wims and Riley Ridley, makes it all the more likely his time in Chicago could be over.
The contract included $6 million in guaranteed money and ends in two years but was easily voided after the 2019 season at a cap hit of $2 million and $1 million over the next two years. So it would seem likely the Bears would move on, but stranger things have happened.
For a player nicknamed Turbo, one who was as popular as any in the Bears' locker room it would be a cruel finish, to his career or at least his Bears career.
At some point between the end of the regular season and March 18 the course this takes will become apparent.