Not since Muhsin Muhammad in 2005 have the Bears seriously addressed the wide receiver position through free agency, which has caused almost yearly speculation among fans and the media about whether the team would seek to upgrade the position in that market.
The Bears haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Marty Booker in 2002 — an embarrassing statistic considering this era’s passing trend — and yet the front office refuses to allocate funding to that position. Part of the problem with the low receiving numbers has been the instability of the quarterback position, but not enough to neglect improving the receiver position.
Bears GM Jerry Angelo prefers to address the receiver needs through the draft and he feels strongly in the young corps that he has put together. One of those players he has drafted, Earl Bennett, says, “I feel we have a great group,” and also notes that “it’s very insulting” that there is constant speculation about the Bears adding a veteran receiver.
I hate to break it to Bennett, but the receivers hardly constitute a “great group.” Johnny Knox and Matt Forte each had 51 receptions to lead the team last year, ranking them 60th in the league.
What the Bears need is a player with great hands who is physical and can catch the ball in traffic. When Jay Cutler is scrambling behind a bad offensive line, he needs a player on whom he can depend to go up and make a play on the ball. It’s been obvious in Cutler’s two years with the Bears that while he makes some bad decisions with the ball that lead to interceptions, he also doesn’t have a receiver who can break up passes to prevent those picks, or make a play on jump balls.
We began to notice the emergence of Bennett as Cutler’s preferred target on third downs last year, but that’s what Bennett has been projected to be since entering the league three years ago: a possession receiver with reliable hands. He’s not a No. 1 receiver, though, and neither are his speedy, undersized teammates, Knox or Devin Hester.
I would expect Bennett to realize that the NFL is a business — he’s in the midst of a lockout, after all. And as such, he should always expect competition and fans’ expectations to be high as they demand more from a position that has underwhelmed for years.