With Bears QB Justin Fields improving, GM adds weapon in WR Chase Claypool

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles' first two moves ahead of Tuesday's trade deadline marked the end of his roster teardown. Out went two veteran defenders who did not fit into the Bears' long-term plans -- defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith -- in came draft capital to help Chicago build around quarterback Justin Fields.

The Bears gave themselves a head start Tuesday when they acquired wide receiver Chase Claypool from the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a 2023 second-round pick. The steep price of sending their own second-round pick, which could be a top-40 selection, versus the second-rounder they received from Baltimore in the Smith trade -- potentially top 60 -- reflected Poles' urgency in getting Fields a receiver.

"I've really liked the way that our offense is starting to come together and move," Poles said Wednesday. "I like the way Justin is trending, and I think adding another big body who's physical, explosive, great leaping ability, can stretch the field but also is violent with the ball in his hands, as well as a blocker, I think that enhances everyone around him."

Fields has made significant strides since Week 7 in areas like passer rating (72.7 in weeks 1-6 and 103.4 in weeks 7-8) and completion percentage (55% to 68%). He helped the Bears' offense put up 33 and 29 points on the road at New England and Dallas, and had 211 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys.

The quarterback's improvement motivated the Bears to do what they could from a roster-building perspective to aid his development. Claypool, a 2020 second-round pick, is under contract through the 2023 season.

A look at the underwhelming list of pending free agent receivers, including Nelson Agholor, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman, influenced Poles' decision to act now.

"... You have to do a little bit of forecasting and looking down the road," Poles said. "Not to say that there's not good players there. I just didn't feel comfortable with not being a little bit more aggressive at this point."

The Bears have the 32nd-ranked passing offense and rank 26th in explosive plays (20 or more yards). The lack of those plays is a byproduct of drops, not a lack of attempts.

Through eight games, Darnell Mooney leads the Bears in receiving despite having just 25 catches (tied for 73rd in the NFL) for 364 yards (45th) and zero touchdowns.

The 6-foot-4, 238-pound Claypool has established himself as a speedy vertical threat. Adding another big-body receiver, like 6-4, 225-pound N'Keal Harry, whom the Bears traded for over the summer, was a priority at the deadline.

"We like big targets because they're viable on third down, [and goal-line] situations," coach Matt Eberflus said. "And they're always open because of their catch radius."

Claypool has run the fifth-most go routes of any receiver since 2020, according to Zebra Technologies statistics. Fields has targeted go routes on 11% of his career pass attempts, the league's eighth-highest rate since 2021.

"Just throw it to him, I guess," Fields said. "Let it fly."

Claypool has 153 catches for 2,044 yards and 12 touchdowns over his career, with 10 of his touchdowns coming as a rookie. But he has just 32 catches for 311 yards and a TD this season. A move back outside comes as a welcomed change of scenery.

"I tried a new position this year in the slot," Claypool said. "I was outside for my first two years. [The slot] wasn't quite the best fit, but it wasn't the worst, either. I think maybe it actually helped me in terms of playing all three positions on the field."

The Bears' offense is making strides at a time when Fields and Mooney are developing a consistent connection. An increased workload for Harry is also starting to take shape. Harry played 63% of snaps in Dallas and caught a 17-yard touchdown.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has more options in the passing game than he did before this trade. Coupling Claypool with Harry gives the Bears two potentially difficult matchups on the outside. Folding Mooney into the mix by moving him back into the slot has the potential to change the Bears' passing game.

"That would make everybody dangerous," Mooney said. "Just pick your poison [of] who you want to take away. We've got the big-body guys out wide, I'm the little shifty guy in the middle; I can make some contested jump-ball catches. It would make everything a lot more dangerous."