Bears general manager Ryan Pace wasted no time in strengthening what was a major weakness for the team in 2017, by corralling Allen Robinson, arguably the top free-agent wide receiver available.
The addition of Robinson, which will become official when free agency begins at 3 p.m. (Chicago time) on Wednesday, provides a bona fide WR1 for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who struggled in 12 uneven starts as a rookie last year, when he lacked viable weapons.
The Bears produced the fewest passing yards in the NFL last season, after Cam Meredith suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee, 2015 first-round pick Kevin White played just one game before a fractured scapula and tight end Zach Miller was lost at midseason with a gruesome knee injury.
Two weeks ago at the Scouting Combine, Pace acknowledged the need for improvement at wide receiver and said, “I think that's an area where you can get better quickly through free agency or the draft. It's always a deep position, usually in both areas.”
The Robinson deal will pay the 6-foot-3, 218-pound 2015 Pro Bowler $42 million over three years, including $25 million guaranteed.
Robinson, who doesn’t turn 25 until August, is still rehabbing last year’s torn ACL that ended his 2017 season after just three snaps, but he expects to be full speed by the start of the 2018 season.
The former second-round pick (61st overall) in 2014 out of Penn State had a monster season in Jacksonville in 2015, catching 80 passes for 1,400 yards, a 17.5-yard average and 14 touchdowns. His breakout season included an NFL-best 31 receptions of 20 yards or longer. Robinson’s production dipped in 2016 when the Jacksonville offense struggled, although he still caught 73 passes for 883 yards, a 12.1-yard average and six touchdowns.
Because of the knee injury, there is some risk that Robinson could struggle, especially early on, but Pace didn’t hesitate to make a bold move at the onset of the “legal tampering” portion of free agency, which began Monday.
“I think there’s always risk in free agency,” Pace said at the Combine. “We’ve talked about that. A lot of times guys become free agents for a reason, and we’re mindful of that. As we continue to build our roster more and more through the draft, maybe we won’t have to supplement as much in free agency.
“But we have to be mindful of that. It is risky. It’s kind of treacherous waters and we have to be careful as we go through this.”
But, for a Bears franchise that has stumbled through four consecutive double-digit-loss seasons and finished in the basement of the NFC North in each of those years, there is no choice but to dabble in the risky business of free agency.