By investing $42 million over three years in wide receiver Allen Robinson, Bears general manager Ryan Pace is hoping to do much more than upgrade a passing attack that produced the fewest yards in the league in 2017.
Robinson’s signing not only sends a message that the Bears are serious about escaping the NFC North cellar, where they’ve resided for the past four years, it benefits the organization on several fronts, including:
Mitch Trubisky. The Bears believe the second overall pick in last year’s draft is the horse they can hitch their wagon to in a rebuilding project that has failed to gain much traction. Trubisky was 28th last year with a 77.5 passer rating in large part because he never had a go-to guy at wide receiver. The closest thing to a WR1 in 2017 was Kendall Wright, who averaged just 10.1 yards on 59 catches and reached the end zone once. After he was acquired at midseason, Dontrelle Inman occasionally emerged, but both he and Wright are unrestricted free agents. As for the incumbents, there is uncertainty as Cam Meredith continues to work his way back from a torn ACL in August, and Kevin White hopes to stay healthy for the first time, but Trubisky can count on Robinson.
Jordan Howard. Critics contend the 2016 fifth-round pick slipped last year when his rushing yards dipped from 1,313 as a rookie to 1,122, and his average per carry plummeted from 5.2 yards to 4.1. But Howard was frequently running into eight-man boxes geared to stop the run because the Bears’ pass game provided little or no threat. But with Robinson posing a threat at all three levels, Howard should have fewer runs where he struggles to get back to the line of scrimmage.
Tarik Cohen. Not only will Robinson help the 2017 fourth-round pick find running room, same as Howard, but he will also clear out the underneath pass routes that Cohen is capable of turning into big plays. Those routes were too often blanketed because there weren’t enough other threats in the passing game, which is part of the reason the explosive Cohen averaged just 6.7 yards per catch as a rookie.
Coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. The Bears’ offensive brain trust will be able to draw plays on longer sheets of paper with Robinson in the lineup. Though he isn’t a speedster, Robinson is a legitimate deep threat because, at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, and with a 39-inch vertical, he’s a mismatch against most defensive backs on 50-50 balls. In 2015 he led the NFL with 14 touchdowns and 31 receptions of 20 yards or longer. That bodes well for a Bears third-down offense that was 26th last season.
Cam Meredith. In 2016, with WR1 Alshon Jeffery playing across from him, Meredith enjoyed a breakout season with 66 catches for 888 yards (13.5-yard average) and four touchdowns. With Robinson on the field and the focal point of opposing defenses, Meredith could flourish again; provided he’s all the way back from the knee injury that wiped out his 2017 season.