With Allen Robinson's future uncertain, Bears WR Darnell Mooney stands out to new GM Ryan Poles

Darnell Mooney already has made a strong impression on new GM Ryan Poles. Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- Before Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles can usher in new beginnings with a roster he inherited in January, he must first address personnel issues from the previous regime.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson spoke out this offseason about his soured relationship with the Bears that began over a contract dispute and devolved into a lack of usage in Matt Nagy’s offense.

Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2019 and 2020, the Bears placed the franchise tag on Robinson and failed to work out a long-term deal with the 28-year-old receiver. Robinson’s production took a major dip in 2021, with his targets shrinking from 9.4 per game in 2020 to 5.5 for a total of 38 catches for 410 yards and one touchdown last season.

On an appearance with Keyshawn, J-Will and Max on ESPN Radio on Jan. 14, Robinson called last season “extremely frustrating” while citing his lack of involvement in the offense as the crux of his disappointment.

Asked whether it’s safe to assume Robinson would not return to the Bears next season, Poles was noncommittal.

“I’m not there right now, so we’re just going to keep working through that,” Poles said at the NFL combine.

While Robinson’s future is uncertain, fellow Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney caught Poles’ eye as a “bright spot” on offense.

Poles said he was “blown away by the person” when he met Mooney after taking the Bears job. Mooney was Chicago’s leading receiver with 81 catches for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns in his second season.

"He's got a quiet confidence about him,” Poles said. “He's hungry to be special. I'm always looking for guys that, they’re just raising their own bar in terms of where they want to go. He wants to be special. You can feel that in him.

“I think we've all been around people that want to be the absolute best they can be, and it's contagious and it gives you energy. It gives you hope. And it really shows me that we have to keep getting guys like that and adding them to the roster. Because if everyone has that mentality and they keep pushing each other, then all of a sudden the team starts to raise the bar and standard. Then it's wins, then it's the division and then it's going for championships.”

That vote of confidence could shed light on how the Bears build out their receiver room in free agency and the draft. It’s a position of need in Chicago given fellow receivers Jakeem Grant Sr., Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin join Robinson as pending free agents.

And it's a critical position, considering a top priority for new coach Matt Eberflus is developing young quarterback Justin Fields.

So as the Bears consider how they might need to replace Robinson and others who could hit the open market, what qualities might Poles look for in a receiver?

“They come in different shapes and sizes and speeds,” Poles said. “I think it comes down to playmakers. I think we saw that in the Super Bowl. Guys that can make plays when their number is called, and that's what we look for, and you can see that on college tape.

“I will say one of the benefits of the combine is you get to see some of the physical traits as well -- what sets them apart. Is it size, is it length, is it explosion, is it speed? We'll put all that together. But I would say that all boils down just to being a playmaker.”

Because the Bears traded up to draft Fields last year, they don’t have a first-round pick. With just one reliable receiver under contract for next season, it’s possible Poles will look to give Fields another playmaker with the team’s first pick at No. 39. ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid sees Purdue receiver David Bell and Georgia's George Pickens as possibilities.