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Why Darnell Mooney isn’t sweating contract negotiations with Bears

Why Darnell Mooney isn’t sweating contract negotiations with Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Darnell Mooney spoke about contract negotiations with the Bears on Monday, and it doesn’t sound like the wide receiver will be receiving a new deal any time soon.

“Everything’s up in the air,” Mooney said. “Whatever happens, it happens.”

Mooney is playing on the last year of his rookie contract and enjoyed the best game of his season in Week 9 against the Saints. He reeled in five catches for 82 yards, giving him his first five-catch game and first 75+ yard game of the season.

When GM Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus first took over the franchise in 2022, Mooney was one of the first players identified as a potential cornerstone of the team. They loved his work ethic, attitude and playmaking ability. But Mooney broke his ankle in Week 12 last season, and it became clear that the Bears wanted to make sure he could return to form before paying him. Mooney has produced inconsistently throughout the year, but Sunday he looked similar to how he did over the course of his 1,055-yard campaign in 2021.

“Eventually somebody is going to pay,” Mooney said. “Whether it’s here or wherever you go, somebody is going to take care of you. So you’ve just got to go out there and play ball. It doesn’t matter what you’re going to do. You can’t look for something tomorrow. Whenever it comes, it comes, and you just have to take care of your job.”

Slowly but surely, Poles has handed out his first big-time contracts as he reshapes the roster in his image. It started with the blockbuster offseason move to sign Tremaine Edmunds to a four-year, $72 million deal with $50 million guaranteed. Then there was Cole Kmet’s four-year, $50 million contract extension with nearly $33 million guaranteed that ties the tight end to Chicago through 2027. The biggest splash was the most recent splash. Days after the team traded a second-round draft pick to the Commanders to bring in defensive end Montez Sweat, Poles gave Sweat a monster four-year, $98 million extension with just under $63 million guaranteed. That made Sweat the highest-paid Bears player in terms of total cash, average annual value and guaranteed money.

Despite all that spending, the Bears still have plenty of cash to spend. According to Spotrac, the Bears rank sixth in the NFL with over $67 million in cap space in 2024.

So the question is, who’s next?

Several Bears are playing on the last year of their contracts this season and are due for new deals. The highest profile player is lock down cornerback Jaylon Johnson who requested a trade last week in hopes of finding a new team to pay him the money he wants. Johnson has said he’s primarily focused on playing at an All-Pro level for the rest of the season and is looking forward to the potential bidding war for his services in the offseason. Doesn’t sound like he’ll be signing an extension any time soon.

Cairo Santos missed a field goal on Sunday, but has otherwise been money throughout the year. He remains the most accurate kicker in Bears history with an incredible 90% hit rate on field goals. Santos has improved his kicking at long range this season, too. He’s more than deserving of a new contract.

Then there’s Mooney. Heading into the season it seemed like either he or Chase Claypool would be the odd man out in the wide receivers room of the future. Obviously the Claypool tenure in Chicago did not work out, but Claypool’s departure at the beginning October didn’t lead to immediate success for Mooney. In the five games after the Bears asked Claypool to stay away from the team– and eventually traded him– Mooney averaged just over two catches and 34 yards per game.

If Mooney’s re-emergence on Sunday portends more effective games ahead, the Bears should probably keep him around. The Bears will need a reliable WR2 to work alongside DJ Moore, Mooney embodies the culture the team wants to build, and paying homegrown players always helps team morale. Further, Velus Jones has not developed into a reliable wide receiver up to this point and rookie Tyler Scott is still a work in progress. But if Week 9 proves to be a blip in Mooney’s season, it feels like the Bears will let him walk.

It’s clear Mooney isn’t sweating the contract extension. He’s confident things will work out for him financially. But Mooney did make sure to add that he hopes it’s the Bears who are still signing his checks next year and beyond.

“I love Chicago. I love the fans. I love just being here. I mean, we’ve got everything in here. Facility-wise we have one of the nicest facilities ever so I would definitely love to be here but like I said you just can’t worry about it. Somebody is going to pay eventually.”

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