As Bears seek WR help, it’s time for Byron Pringle to make his case for 2023

The immediate hit of losing top wide receiver Darnell Mooney for the season will be painful for the Bears. It’ll be tough beating the Packers or anyone else without their best offensive weapon other than Justin Fields.

But this season has never had immediacy. It was always going to be an arduous phase of the rebuild — one in which finding out what the team has for the future is always the real priority.

There’s nothing to find out about Mooney. The Bears know exactly how good and valuable he is. The upside to his exit is that it opens the floor for auditions.

No one player can fill the vacancy.

“You don’t replace Moon,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “Moon means so much to this football team — his approach, work ethic, intelligence, flexibility. And obviously the talent is there, too. You don’t replace him.”

Mooney played an average of 88% of the snaps before the Jets game, when he suffered the season-ending ankle injury. He got 41% of the wide receiver targets. His 40 catches for 493 yards doesn’t seem like a lot, but Equanimeous St. Brown is next among receivers at 14 for 195.

So there’s a lot of playing time and ample targets to go around. Who wants them?

First on the list will unquestionably be newcomer Chase Claypool. The Bears have taken it painstakingly slowly with him during his first month in the building, but he set a new high by playing 67% of the snaps against the Jets and had two catches for 51 yards on five targets.

Like Mooney, Claypool is in his third season and has an impressive r?sum? already. They were sure they knew what he could do the moment they gave up a second-round pick for him in the trade with the Steelers.

The three receivers with the most to gain over the final five games are Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry and rookie Velus Jones. Those are also the ones the Bears must get a complete assessment on to determine where they fit for next season.

Pringle is the most curious of the three. General manager Ryan Poles knew him from their four shared seasons in Kansas City and immediately after him in free agency. At one year, $4.1 million, Pringle qualified as a splurge amid the Bears’ frugal offseason.

That move took a bad turn for the Bears when Pringle got hurt in training camp and then again in September. He has played just six games and has five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m always hungry,” Pringle said. “I’m just waiting on my number to be called.”

Harry (24), St. Brown (26) and Dante Pettis (27) are all in the conventional age range for a rebuilding team, but at 29, Pringle is far from ancient. The question isn’t whether the Bears want Pringle for a decade; it’s whether he can help them next season.

In the high-powered, smooth-running Chiefs offense, Pringle stepped in last season and caught 42 passes for 568 yards and five touchdowns. There’s no doubt he has potential to produce.

This is an ideal scenario for Pringle to make his case. He took a one-year deal intent on proving himself, and now that he’s healthy and the Bears have a big need, he has his chance.

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