‘Where receivers go to die’: 15 years later, does the quote about Chicago still ring true?

LAKE FOREST, Ailing. — Weeks forward of the 2023 season, Chicago Bears receiver Darnell Mooney determined to rewatch one of many hardest moments of his profession. It was Oct. 5, 2022, when the Bears hosted the Washington Commanders, and each offenses struggled. However with 30 seconds remaining and the Commanders main 12-7, the Bears had an opportunity at a game-winning landing with a fourth-and-goal on the Washington 4.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields faked a toss and lofted a cross to Mooney, who jumped and almost caught the ball whereas he was above the purpose line for the landing, however he bobbled it and did not safe the ball till he was pushed out of the top zone by inches.

Washington ball — and recreation. Mooney stated he was being “accountable” by watching each element of that play as a brand new season neared, one with the promise of placing the dangerous reminiscences of a three-win catastrophe within the rearview mirror. However with the Bears now at 0-4 after shedding their 14th straight on Sunday, and extra receiver drama unfolding with Chase Claypool, the echoes of a defining quote reverberated by means of Halas Corridor.

It is the fifteenth anniversary of ex-Bears receiver Muhsin Muhammad telling Sports activities Illustrated that Chicago “is the place receivers go to die.”

Second-year basic supervisor Ryan Poles tried to vary that narrative. He orchestrated a blockbuster commerce in March, sending the No. 1 total choose to the Carolina Panthers for a bundle that included DJ Moore, a real No. 1 receiver who’s 26 and is being checked out to expedite the event of 24-year-old quarterback Justin Fields.

However because the Bears put together for Thursday’s rematch with the Commanders (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video), they rank twenty fourth in passing yards (186.3 per recreation) after rating final in 2022 (130.5). Moore is doing his half, rating 14th at 75.3 receiving yards per recreation, however Mooney has eight catches complete and Claypool’s future in Chicago is unsure.

A number of Bears receivers stated they’re conscious of Muhammad’s quote, and so they imagine the present unit may assist change that notion. However historical past does not assist their optimism. The Bears have had one first-team All-Professional receiver up to now 15 years in Brandon Marshall, and so they’ve been unable to draw elite free brokers due to an absence of quarterback consistency (18 beginning QBs up to now 15 years) and an absence of success, with their final playoff win coming in 2011. One participant agent stated free brokers take a tough have a look at who might be passing them the ball earlier than signing.

“Whenever you’re speaking about [wide receiver], it had been an enormous difficulty for us due to the shortage of stability at a very powerful place on the sector,” stated Josh Lucas, the Bears’ director of participant personnel from 2015 to ’22. “We all the time knew so long as we did not have a lovely quarterback that vast receivers wished to return play with, we might be up in opposition to the eight ball.”

The Bears acquired Claypool in a commerce deadline transfer on Nov. 1, 2022, and he did not come low cost. Chicago despatched its second-round choose, which proved to be No. 32 total — primarily a first-rounder — as a result of Miami’s first-rounder was stripped by a sanction.

Claypool caught 18 passes for 191 yards and one rating over 10 video games for Chicago. His lackluster effort, particularly when it got here to blocking, was addressed by coach Matt Eberflus after a Week 2 loss. And Claypool’s frustration was evident Friday when he stated he did not assume he was being put in the most effective place to showcase his ability set. Two days later, he was a wholesome scratch, though Eberflus stated what Claypool stated did not have something to do with him being inactive. He is additionally being requested to not attend workforce actions this week.

“We’ll see the place it goes from there,” Eberflus stated Monday. “Ryan handles all these issues, all these trades and transactions, and we’ll see the place it goes.”

Conversely, Moore has been what the Bears wanted. He had eight receptions for 131 yards and a landing Sunday to spice up his season numbers to 19 catches, 301 yards and a pair of TDs. He now has two video games topping 100 receiving yards, changing into the primary Bears receiver to take action within the first 4 weeks since Allen Robinson in 2020.

Marshall stated the connection between Fields and Moore reminds him of what he had with Jay Cutler.

“They’ve the chemistry already,” Marshall stated. “You noticed them in coaching camp.”

If there was a silver lining Sunday for Chicago, it is that the offense confirmed some progress, particularly Fields, who had his first 300-yard-passing recreation (335) and his first recreation with 4 passing touchdowns. The Bears entered Week 4 ranked twenty ninth in yards per recreation at 250 and twenty sixth in scoring at 15.7, and so they gained 471 yards and scored 28. However that enchancment did come in opposition to a Broncos workforce that yielded 70 factors the earlier week to the Miami Dolphins, and it did are available a 31-28 loss.

“Whenever you’re 0-4, nobody’s carried out the job effectively sufficient,” Eberflus stated. “That is simply details.

“It is a outcomes enterprise, and now we have to do a greater job collectively as a gaggle.”

With out Claypool, there might be strain on Mooney to regain his 2021 kind, when he caught 81 passes for 1,055 yards and 4 TDs. However optimism a few Fields-Mooney connection light final season when he caught 40 passes for 493 yards and two scores.

That is one of many causes Mooney wished to revisit the play vs. Washington: to study from his errors. He was optimistic the addition of Moore would enable this group to rehabilitate the picture of the Bears’ receiving corps, however that was earlier than the Claypool saga.

“I do not imagine … the place it is like, ‘Oh my goodness, this workforce is cursed,”’ Marshall stated in reference to Muhammad’s quote. “I simply imagine that you simply go on the market and do your job.”

Claypool’s absence additionally means receivers resembling rookie Tyler Scott should contribute before anticipated.

“I positively heard [Muhammad’s quote],” Scott stated. “I do not put an excessive amount of inventory into it. That is how he felt, and that is his opinion.

“On the finish of the day, every era comes and all people has a brand new alternative. That is how I see it. Why cannot you alter that stigma or tradition that Chicago could have, or that he felt that that they had?”

Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have been the Bears’ most up-to-date Professional Bowl receivers in 2013. Within the 9 seasons since, Chicago receivers have ranked twenty eighth in targets, thirty first in receiving yards and thirtieth in first-down receptions, and they’re tied for twenty eighth in receiving touchdowns.

Because the begin of contemporary NFL free company in 1993, the Bears’ largest free agent acquisition at vast receiver was Robinson in 2018. Like Moore, Marshall had come by way of commerce, and the Bears drafted Jeffery.

Lucas stated the timing was good to signal Robinson. Mitch Trubisky, whom the Bears traded as much as take at No. 2 total, was getting into his second season and Matt Nagy was taking on as head coach. Nagy had spent the earlier 10 seasons below Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas Metropolis.

Robinson thrived with 1,147 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2019 and 1,250 yards and 6 TDs the next yr. However Trubisky left as a free agent for the Buffalo Payments in 2021, and Robinson grew sad over his contract scenario and left as a free agent for the Los Angeles Rams final season.

The Bears are hoping Fields can become the kind of quarterback who can appeal to free brokers, however there’s one other situation by which Fields’ future could lie elsewhere. It is doable the Bears may land the No. 1 total choose for the second yr in a row. Chicago not solely has its No. 1 choose, but additionally Carolina’s. The Bears and Panthers are the one 0-4 groups within the NFL.

If that occurs, the Bears can be in place to draft the overwhelming selection for the highest choose in USC quarterback Caleb Williams, which might put Fields on the buying and selling block.

And whereas Williams would possibly assist appeal to free brokers, it will imply one other spin on the QB revolving door. Muhammad’s frustration with the Bears was linked to the quarterback carousel he handled over three seasons (2005-07), having performed with Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese and Jeff Blake. That performed a job in Muhammad’s output taking a step again from the primary 9 years of his profession in Carolina, the place he earned first-team All-Professional and Professional Bowl honors.

“We might need to take a tough have a look at who’s taking part in quarterback for them earlier than signing with Chicago,” one agent instructed ESPN. “Few receivers can really produce irrespective of [who’s throwing them the ball], and even then there is no assure that may proceed if the quarterback scenario is not good.

“I would not be doing my job if I obtained them to a spot the place their profession may fall off a cliff.”

ESPN Jets reporter Wealthy Cimini contributed to this report.

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