Bears Extend Equanimeous St. Brown, Still in Need of True No. 1 Wideout

The Chicago Bears signed wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to a one-year extension, according to The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain. The team later confirmed the move. In his first year with the Bears, St. Brown has 20 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown.

St. Brown’s deal is worth $1.25 million per NFL Insider Ian Rappaport.

Believe it or not, the fourth-year wide receiver could set career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns on Sunday. He caught 21 passes for 328 yards and a score as a rookie in 2018 with Green Bay. He followed Luke Getsy from the Packers to the Bears earlier this year. The stats are far from gaudy, but his experience with Getsy’s offense and his work as a blocker helped Justin Fields during his breakout season. St. Brown will have to hit those benchmarks without the assistance of Fields. The second-year quarterback will not play on Sunday.

“He’s a pro and he’s always on it with the details,” head coach Matt Eberflus said of St. Brown earlier this season. “I’ve spent some time in the receivers room as of late, in the position meetings, and he’s certainly one of the big leaders in that group, coaching the guys and leading that way and then he exhibits that on the field, too, with his play and how he hustles and how he executes.”

The biggest thing the extension represents is the team’s confidence in St. Brown. Chicago will bring back Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool. Rookie Velus Jones is a near lock, too, and N’Keal Harry is on the bubble. Byron Pringle and Dante Pettis will likely move on once free agency starts in March. The Bears will look to the draft or free agency to find a No. 1 receiver, something the team sorely missed this season.

If you’re looking ahead to free agency, GM Ryan Poles will be armed with at least $120 million in cap space if he wants to fill that position on the open market. That said, there isn’t a clear WR1 among this year’s talent pool. In fact, the trade to acquire Claypool indicates just how weak this year’s class is.

Pro Football Focus ranked the top potentially available wide receivers at the end of November. All counting statistics are as of week 17.

  1. Jakobi Meyers, Patriots (64 catches, 771 yards, 5 TDs) – His 3.6% drop rate is 12th among qualifying receivers. He’s caught 71.9% of his targets and his 69% contested catch rate is the best among all receivers over the past three seasons.
  2. Juju Smith-Schuster, Chiefs (76/898/3) – His 443 YAC is ninth in the AFC, but Smith-Schuster is at his best as a No. 2 receiver. That’s Mooney’s role with the Bears.
  3. Darius Slayton, Giants (46/724/2) – The 26-year-old has become New York’s defacto No. 1 due to injuries. Slayton could set career highs in receptions (51) and yards (751) on Sunday.
  4. DJ Chark, Lions (27/488/3) – He signed a one-year, $10 million prove-it deal with Detroit this year, but has been nowhere near as effective as he was with the Jaguars in 2020. Chark has caught just 56.3% of his targets this year.
  5. Allen Lazard, Packers (56/747/5) – He’s having a breakout season, but thanks to the play of rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, Lazard will not be retained. He knows Getsy and St. Brown, but is he a No. 1 wide receiver? Lazard has eclipsed 100 receiving yards just once this season. He has three such games in his career and has never recorded double-digit scores.

There are some terrific receivers at the top of this year’s draft, but Chicago’s biggest holes are on the defensive line. The Bears have the worst pressure rate in the NFL. Their 20 sacks are also league-worst. Most analysts predict Poles may trade down for that reason. The Bears only have two of the top 56 picks and also need offensive line upgrades.

Quentin Johnson of TCU is the consensus top wide receiver in the draft. He won’t fall out of the top 10. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State) could be a top-10 selection, too. Jordan Addison (USC), Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman (Tennessee), and Kayshon Boutte (LSU) will be long gone by the time Poles makes his second selection. Bouette was named in a sex-party scandal a few days ago, so his stock could drop.

The best available when Chicago makes its second selection includes Zay Flowers (BC), Dontaynian Wicks (Virginia), and Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss). Wicks had a breakout season for the Cavaliers and could be special. He’s got great length, speed, and hands. He also runs pristine routes, but he’s not a top receiver.

The St. Brown extension was imperative due to the dearth of top-tier talent at the position. The Bears will probably enter 2023 with Claypool as their number one followed by Mooney and St. Brown. It would be nice if they could trade down and grab Addison. That would mean ceding Will Anderson Jr. and Jalen Carter to other teams, however. There is still a long offseason ahead, but little will change the available talent at wide receiver.

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