With the ever-ballooning value of franchise quarterbacks, the rookie contract period has become a critical time for teams attempting to build around a young signal-caller. It's vital for general success, of course, but it's of equal or greater importance that clubs surround an unproven QB with enough talent to fully evaluate him before rolling out the checkbook to broker a second deal.
There are naysayers who believe the Chicago Bears are failing to do just that with second-year quarterback Justin Fields. After losing wide receiver Allen Robinson to the Los Angeles Rams and seeing a number of speedy wideouts like Jakeem Grant and Marquise Goodwin depart in free agency, Chicago restocked its WR cupboard with established but unflashy players — names like Tajae Sharpe, Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown.
If you ask Fields, however, the teammates he sees on the roster and in practice are more than enough to reach the Bears' objectives this season.
“We don't have an Odell [Beckham Jr.] or a Cooper Kupp on our team, but at the end of the day I think if everybody is on their P's and Q's, and we're on top of everything and not making mistakes, the players we have right now are good enough,” Fields said last week in an interview with Bleacher Report. “The front office thinks that, too. The fans outside of the facility, they don't know what's going on at practice. Just because we don't have a big-name guy doesn't mean those guys aren't talented. I have plenty of confidence in myself and my teammates that we're going to get the job done.”
Fields may have a point about big-name wideouts compared to those of the lesser-known variety. The recently departed Robinson was far and away the flashiest name on the offensive roster last season yet failed to develop chemistry with the rookie QB. He managed a paltry 38 receptions for 410 yards and 1 touchdown — all career lows apart from his one-game 2017 campaign in Jacksonville that was cut short by a torn ACL.
Meanwhile, the Bears' 2020 fifth-rounder, Darnell Mooney, doubled down on a rookie season that sizzled with potential by posting 1,055 receiving yards and cementing himself as Chicago's go-to aerial option.
“How hard he works,” Fields said regarding Mooney. “He's already talented; he's fast and has great hands. On top of that, he works harder than anybody I know other than myself. A couple nights ago, we were in the facility until 12:30 a.m. going through plays and walking through plays for the next day at practice.”
Mooney has gained Fields' trust and laid the blueprint for Bears wideouts succeeding under a certain degree of anonymity to the casual fan. It's something Chicago's free-agent additions will look to replicate, and it's a level of success that rookie WR Velus Jones should strive for as he gains his footing in the NFL.
The early returns have already been positive for Jones, who Fields made a point of praising.
“At rookie minicamp there was one play that stood out to me, he had a 10-yard dig route in and caught it and hit that second gear kick for a touchdown,” Fields said. “I think he caught it at 10 yards and took it 60, so he's a great run-after-the-catch guy. He's going to pick up a lot of yards and is physical. He's almost like a running back at receiver. Having him on the outside and putting the ball in his hands and letting him work will be great.”
It remains to be seen if Fields' words of reassurance in May turn into a proof of concept come September. If he is right in his evaluation, however, the decision makers in Chicago will be well-equipped to continue making theirs.