Darnell Mooney

Darnell Mooney says a lot while saying little about Bears future, frustration with role

Darnell Mooney knows what he's capable of, but he also knows that, for whatever reason, it hasn't shown up in the past two seasons in Chicago

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Darnell Mooney won't say it, but the reality of another unproductive season in the Bears' passing game, one that comes during a contract year for the wide receiver, appears to be starting to set in.

“I don’t really focus on those things," Mooney said Thursday at Halas Hall when asked about the status of contract talks and his relationship with the front office. "I’m just worried about winning these games. Contract-wise, who cares? It is what it is, can’t do anything about it now.

"I know what I can do. I know how I played. The film doesn’t lie. Just got to watch the film.”

After catching 81 passes for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns in 2021, Mooney appeared prime to become one of the NFL's top young receivers. But the Tulane product hasn't been able to find consistent success in the Bears' passing game under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

Mooney has caught just 67 passes for 888 yards and three scores in 25 games in the past two seasons. This season, Mooney has topped 50 yards in three games and cleared the 80-yard mark only once.

The inability of Getsy and the Bears to get him going consistently has seemingly led to some frustration that's bubbling under the surface.

Mooney arrived at training camp last year hoping to prove he could be the No. 1 receiver for a team in the middle of a teardown.

The Bears asked Mooney to learn all three receiver positions in Getsy's scheme and be able to bounce between them seamlessly on a play-by-play basis. After DJ Moore's arrival this offseason, the plan was to ask less of Mooney, hoping that would lead to the production the receiver showed he was capable of under Matt Nagy.

It hasn't.

“It’s been like that for me for the past two years," Mooney said. "It’s all about the best situation. Whether that be for me or anybody. You always got to be in the best situation to produce as you are as a player. I’m doing whatever I can on the field just to get open, run my routes as fast as I can, and get open. I’m doing pretty well at that, so just got to keep doing that. When the ball comes, just got to make the catch and do whatever I can after the catch.

“I feel like I’m doing everything I can. Sometimes things don’t fall my way. Unfortunately, that’s not what I like. Going to keep getting open and doing my thing and try to win these games for my boys.”

When asked about their inability to maximize Mooney, Getsy pointed to Moore and tight end Cole Kmet getting a bulk of the targets and the Bears' desire to use quarterback Justin Fields' legs in passing situations as a reason for Mooney's low production.

Earlier this season, wide receiver Chase Claypool criticized Bears coaches for not putting him in the best position to succeed. He was inactive for the following game and traded to the Miami Dolphins in Week 5.

There's no question Mooney is frustrated with the Bears' inability to get him the ball consistently. How could he not be? He was a 1,000-yard receiver two years ago and has been relegated to a bit receiver over the last two seasons through no fault of his own.

But Mooney is a consummate pro who says he still wants to call Chicago his home long-term. He's not going to air his grievances. He knows all you have to do is watch the film to see what is and isn't working.

"I will not be a distraction to myself or my team," Mooney said when asked if this was the right offense for him. "Whether that’s an answer for yes or no, I’m not going to be a distraction for any of my guys on the team or myself. So those questions may be answered whenever the season ends."

But Mooney also clearly understands that his desire to remain a Bear might not align with the contract he wants -- or whatever the Bears are willing to offer him -- after two seasons of subpar production.

“I want to be here. I love Chicago," Mooney said when asked if the Bears were the right place for him. "I love being here. So that answer is whatever it is after the season.”

Mooney showed his talent in 2021. He can be a highly productive receiver in the NFL. Players with his body control, route-running, versatility, and hands get paid in the NFL. They are of the highest value. If you are a serious contender, you can't have enough trustworthy receivers.

Somewhere in the past two seasons, the Bears have lost Darnell Mooney. Not lost in the checked-out sense. By all accounts, Mooney is one of the hardest-working guys in the building and is part of the core fabric of this young locker room.

No, the Bears lost him in the way people lose themselves during a big life change. He was supposed to be a key part of this rebuild. A receiver who had great chemistry with Fields and was on the ascent.

This Bears regime has been unable to tap into one of the two things that were already in place offensively when they arrived. Instead, they have watched as Mooney went from budding young receiver to bit player due to schematic inconsistencies and lack of a clear identity early on.

Mooney might want to be in Chicago. But the best version of himself might not reside here, especially not as the offense is currently constructed.

The Bears lost Darnell Mooney early on in the rebuild process and never rediscovered him. For all the early blemishes on this rebuild, that might wind up being the biggest sin. Especially if he leaves and becomes Darnell Mooney again somewhere else in 2024.

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