Competition, intrigue builds among Bears' wide receivers

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Bears general manager Ryan Poles believed that receiver N’Keal Harry could benefit from a fresh start and an exit from the Patriots. Their phone call in July affirmed that faith.

Poles was struck by the emotion he heard in the voice of the 24-year-old Harry, who was grateful to leave New England for a new opportunity in Chicago. A first-round pick of the Patriots in 2019, Harry was dealt to the Bears for a seventh-round pick.

"I just want to show how dominant I can be as a player in the NFL,” Harry said.

“This is a reset, a much-needed reset.”

To earn his place in the Bears’ future, Harry must first compete against Equanimeous St. Brown and Byron Pringle, a pair of wide receivers whose professional careers have been similar to his. Harry, St. Brown (in Green Bay) and Pringle (in Kansas City) each failed to establish themselves in their previous stops and landed in Chicago needing to prove their place.

Harry, St. Brown and Pringle are now each playing in contract years – they're set to be unrestricted free agents next March – and have an opportunity. They're rather low-risk additions whom the Bears hope pay dividends.

“I’m ready to showcase my talent and take my game to the next level,” St. Brown said.

The Bears have been the subject of national scrutiny and skepticism, specifically for how they have – or haven't – built their offense around second-year quarterback Justin Fields. While the Jaguars made significant investments around quarterback Trevor Lawrence this past offseason and the Jets spent to help support quarterback Zach Wilson, the Bears maintained their salary cap flexibility during a year of transition for the roster.

Poles didn't believe it was prudent to make a lucrative investment in a star wide receiver who didn’t necessarily fit the Bears’ window for contention. With the signings of St. Brown and Pringle and then the trade for Harry, the Bears feature a group of targets for Fields who are unproven but boast intriguing potential.

St. Brown failed to earn a consistent role during his four years with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, hauling in just 37 receptions and a touchdown in that time. Pringle recorded 93 catches and seven touchdowns in three years with star quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, including 60 receptions and five scores in 2021. He's by far the most proven newcomer brought in by the Bears.

Harry fell out of favor with coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots, catching just a dozen passes last season.

“That’s what was so intriguing -- to come here and have this opportunity to play with Justin and play in this system and have a chance to show what they can do," new Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said of those three receivers. "I think all that stuff is what’s so exciting for them and the opportunity to prove what they can do.”

Bears top target Darnell Mooney is the team’s lone wide receiver locked into a spot on the 53-man roster, though rookie Velus Jones Jr. is all but certain to land a spot as well. Chicago will likely carry six receivers on its initial roster, and that includes players who prove to be valuable on special teams. There’s serious competition underway at the position.

St. Brown, Pringle and Harry each need to make a strong impression throughout training camp and the preseason, because none of them have earned the benefit of patience in their fresh starts with the Bears. They’re grateful for the opportunity but also carry a sense of urgency with them.

“Football, you can only play so many years,” St. Brown said. “Especially at wideout. It’s not like the quarterback position. You have to make the most of your time while you’re in the NFL.”

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

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