Emma: Could Darnell Mooney be on track for a lucrative extension in 2023?

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(670 The Score) Bears receiver Darnell Mooney admits he’s paying attention. He has taken notice every time a top NFL receiver has landed a significant contract this offseason.

Davante Adams inked a $142-million deal with the Raiders. Tyreek Hill hauled in $120 million after being traded to the Dolphins. A.J. Brown (Eagles), Stefon Diggs (Bills) and Cooper Kupp (Rams) each signed lucrative new contracts as well. On Tuesday, the Commanders signed star receiver Terry McLaurin to a three-year, $71-million extension.

“I’ve got four years,” Mooney said earlier this spring, referring to his rookie contract. “Play my four years, and then we’ll talk then.”

Mooney, 24, might actually have that conversation sooner. If Mooney continues his ascension in 2022, his third season in the NFL, he could earn a significant contract extension from the Bears next offseason.

Mooney can’t be compared to the elite company just yet. He’s only two years into his NFL career and while he has performed well, he hasn't proved himself yet as a No. 1 receiver. Mooney had 81 catches for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns last season. He was the top target for a struggling offense.

Those trying circumstances could work in Mooney's favor at the negotiating table. He has emerged despite the Bears’ offensive issues. Mooney has caught passes from four different Chicago quarterbacks over two seasons. He has adjusted from Mitchell Trubisky to Nick Foles to Andy Dalton to now Justin Fields, who has established himself as the Bears' starting quarterback entering his second NFL season.

Mooney is clearly Fields' top receiver. Their connection has grown this offseason, as has their friendship. It’s why there’s hope that Fields and Mooney can help each other prosper this season.

The Bears have long praised Mooney’s work ethic. After signing his rookie contract, Mooney purchased a JUGS Machine to catch passes on his own. He even caught passes inside his apartment from that machine.

McLaurin’s contract may serve as the baseline for what Mooney looks for next offseason. Their first two NFL seasons were statistically similar. In 2021, Mooney had four more receptions than McLaurin.

Mooney caught many by surprise as a fifth-round pick in 2020 who had a breakout rookie campaign. He then joined the 1,000-yard club in 2021 and performed at a high level.

If Mooney can continue his growth in 2022 and showcase himself as a No. 1 receiver, he should be set to join some highly paid receiving company.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

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