Agreeing to terms on a three-year, $42 million contract with free-agent wide receiver Allen Robinson -- who missed almost the entire 2017 season because of a torn left ACL -- was a risk the Chicago Bears simply had to take.
Prior to Robinson’s verbal commitment late Monday night, Chicago’s situation at wide receiver was unacceptable.
Only one Bears wideout caught more than 50 passes last season: veteran Kendall Wright (59), who is an unrestricted free agent.
Kevin White, the No. 7 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, has played in just five career regular-season games and is coming off another trip to injured reserve.
Cameron Meredith, who had a breakout season in 2016, suffered a devastating knee injury last summer that cost him the entire 2017 season. The Bears will tender Meredith, a restricted free agent, but he remains a major question mark.
And veteran Markus Wheaton, whom the Bears guaranteed $6 million in 2017, had a career-low three receptions for 51 yards in 11 games last season.
Chicago’s top offseason priority was to surround quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, with better weapons.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace knew he had to swing for the fences at wide receiver this week. The consensus top receiver in the upcoming draft, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, is not viewed by some scouts as a top-10 pick. The Bears, who currently hold the No. 8 pick, are probably more likely to choose a cornerback, pass-rusher or even Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson before using their first-rounder on another receiver.
Armed with that reality, the Bears raced out of the gates when the legal negotiating period opened Monday, aggressively pursuing not just Robinson but also free-agent receiver Sammy Watkins, according to sources. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter later reported that Watkins intends to sign with Kansas City.
One source suggested that Watkins, in fact, was Chicago’s top choice. But reeling in Robinson is still a win for the Bears, who far too often have been used as leverage by agents to get their free-agent clients better deals elsewhere.
The 6-foot-3 Robinson, who is just 24 years old, emerged as a legitimate playmaker for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015 and '16, catching a combined 153 passes for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Some believe Robinson isn’t a true No. 1 wide receiver -- a legitimate debate -- but he’s light years ahead of the rest of the wideouts on Chicago’s depth chart.
Of course, as with any free agent, there’s a degree of risk with Robinson.
The only reason the Bears were in position to sign Robinson was because he tore his ACL in Week 1 last season. There’s simply no way the Jags would have let Robinson leave if he had stayed healthy in 2017.
Still, Robinson represents the Bears’ first true marquee free-agent pick up since Pace assumed control of the front office in 2015.
Pace’s free-agent track record -- except for defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and oft-injured inside linebacker Danny Trevathan -- has been spotty. The Bears missed badly on multiple free agents last offseason.
But Chicago had to take a calculated risk on Robinson. The Bears will never win the NFC North unless Trubisky reaches his full potential. For that to happen, the Bears have to upgrade their skill positions. Adding Robinson is a nice start.