Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin made headlines this offseason by holding out minicamps this summer, with one year left on his rookie contract. He’s an incredible talent, and is unquestionably a huge piece of Washington’s offense, and it didn’t take long for them to come to an agreement on a three-year, $70 million extension that included $23.3 million in new money. If all goes well this year, the Bears should take note and do the same thing with Darnell Mooney at the end of the season.
Per the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, players on rookie deals can renegotiate their contracts until the end of their third season. But when that day comes, Ryan Poles shouldn’t waste time ensuring he stays in Chicago. The regime won’t call their flurry of roster moves a “rebuild,” but realistically they’re searching for their next core of foundational players, and everything we’ve heard out of Halas Hall suggests Mooney will be a key figure in the offense moving forward. Ryan Poles singled out Mooney as a “bright spot” on the roster when discussing his personnel evaluations back in early March. Matt Eberflus has gone out of his way to praise Mooney’s work ethic and playmaking abilities several times throughout the summer. So why wait to extend him?
As passing attacks dominate the league, wide receiver becomes more and more of a premium position. Contract figures climb higher and higher for wide receivers every year, so waiting to extend a player could cost millions more in the long run. Yes, the Bears are set up with cap room to spend in the future, but several players will either need to be extended, or replaced, before too long. Players like Roquan Smith and David Montgomery are in the last year of their contracts. Due to signing so many players to one-year deals this year, only 48 players are under contract for the 2023 season. That’s much lower than the top teams in the NFC, like the Rams (62), Buccaneers (63), Packers (59). Signing Mooney now would not only help for the team’s short-term planning, but it would also give them a better sense of their framework farther into Justin Fields’ rookie window.
Figuring out how to win with Fields is arguably the No. 1 reason to extend Mooney as soon as possible. Early on it’s been clear that Fields and Mooney have the best chemistry in the passing game, and it’s not particularly close. Cole Kmet and Fields have made strides working together, but Fields and Mooney seem to already have that sublime connection that is so important to the success of a QB/WR duo. It doesn’t matter if Mooney doesn’t have the size of a more “typical” No. 1 wideout, or if he doesn’t primarily play “X.” Other players like Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin and McLaurin have already broken that mold. What matters is that he and Fields have already shown they can connect for big plays, all over the field.
Obviously what Mooney does on the field this year matters. The Bears will need to see him continue to grow alongside Fields in the offense. But that doesn’t mean Mooney should only earn a new deal if he puts up huge numbers. As the Bears install their new offense, there’s a chance his numbers dip compared to last year’s totals. There will be growing pains as the players get comfortable in Luke Getsy’s scheme, or as the young offensive linemen get comfortable in their new positions. The key is being able to see a better future with Fields and Mooney working together. If the Bears can project that, then they should start working on a new deal for him as soon as they can.