Darnell Wright

Bears Notes: J. Johnson, Wright, Warren

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he wants an extension. It was reported back in June that Johnson would be hiring a new agent to aid in that pursuit, and he recently retained the services of Chris Ellison, as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports.

Biggs does not indicate whether talks have taken place (the earlier report suggested that Johnson was not necessarily pushing for a new deal to be completed before training camp). GM Ryan Poles has expressed a desire to keep Johnson in the fold, but Poles has used second-round picks on corners (Kyler Gordon and Tyrique Stevenson) in back-to-back years, and the team also selected Terell Smith in the fifth round of this year’s draft.

As such, Poles may elect to make Johnson — who has been a regular starter but far from a world-beater in his first three professional seasons — prove himself in his platform year before committing to him on a long-term basis.

Now for more notes from the Windy City:

  • Darnell Wright, the Bears’ first-round choice in the 2023 draft, is penciled in as the club’s starting right tackle. Still, the team wanted him to drop weight, and per Kevin Fishbain and Adam Jahns of The Athletic (subscription required), Wright has done just that. By conditioning like a wide receiver and hiring a personal chef, the Tennessee blocker shaved 16 pounds off his frame, and Poles noted that Wright aced the OL conditioning test. Wright’s presence could help push former Raiders first-rounder Alex Leatherwood off the roster.
  • The Bears recorded just 20 sacks in 2022, the lowest total in the league. While Chicago added some reinformcents in the form of DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green in free agency, its pass rush contingent remains uninspiring. We heard last month that Poles may want to add another edge defender, and he recently confirmed that desire (Twitter link via Jahns). However, it sounds as if Poles may be having difficulty enticing free agents to the club. “It takes two to make sure it works out,” he said. Accomplished players like Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, and Robert Quinn — whom the Bears traded to the Eagles in advance of last year’s deadline — remain unsigned.
  • We heard back in January that Kevin Warren, the former Big Ten commissioner whom the Bears hired as their new president and CEO role in the wake of Ted Phillips‘ retirement, would focus on the business side of the operation. However, Dan Pompei of The Athletic (subscription required) says, “[i]t would be naive to think [Warren] won’t have much to do with the football team that will play in the stadium he is trying to build.” In an expansive piece that will be of particular interest to Bears fans, Pompei notes that Warren will almost certainly hire the team’s next GM and head coach whenever those hires become necessary, and that he will have input into how Poles and current head coach Matt Eberflus operate. Indeed, Warren plans to watch game tape and will evaluate the players’ attention to detail, energy level, and passion for the game.

Alex Leatherwood On Bears’ Roster Bubble

Since the Raiders received considerable criticism for drafting Alex Leatherwood in the 2021 first round, the young offensive lineman has been unable to carve out a steady role for either of his two NFL teams. The second of those looks to be considering moving on early as well.

After the Raiders found no takers for Leatherwood’s first-round contract last summer, the Bears claimed it through waivers. The Alabama product remains attached to that deal, but the Bears may not have a roster spot for the third-year blocker. Leatherwood is on the Bears’ roster bubble, with the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs noting a place on the 53-man squad should not be considered secure.

[RELATED: WR Velus Jones On Chicago’s Bubble?]

Leatherwood, however, is still in the mix for one of the team’s reserve O-line roles. The Bears have been active along their offensive front this offseason, adding four-year Titans starting guard Nate Davis and using the No. 10 overall pick on Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright. Davis is ticketed to be Chicago’s right guard, while Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com notes Wright has been working as the team’s starting right tackle this offseason. Wright spent more time at right tackle than on the left side with the Volunteers, making for an easier transition as a pro.

Demoted right tackle Larry Borom has operated as the Bears’ swingman behind Wright and left tackle Braxton Jones this offseason, though Biggs adds no clear swing tackle is present just yet. Leatherwood will likely compete for that job in training camp. Backup guard Ja’Tyre Carter worked in with the first team during offseason practices as well during OTAs and minicamp; the Bears chose Carter in last year’s seventh round. Leatherwood has seen time at guard and tackle as a pro but has not been able to catch on at either post.

Jon Gruden‘s staff moved Leatherwood to guard early in his rookie season, and he started all 17 games. Those starts were not well reviewed, and Josh McDaniels‘ staff shifted Leatherwood back to right tackle last year. Despite the Raiders running into injury issues at that spot, they did not see enough from Leatherwood to carry his contract onto the 53-man roster. The Bears did not see much from Leatherwood last season, either. A mononucleosis bout led to Leatherwood’s placement on the reserve/non-football illness list in September. The Bears used last season as a developmental year, activating Leatherwood in late October but not using him in a game until December. Leatherwood totaled 32 offensive snaps last season.

Leatherwood, 24, is only attached to a $1.97MM cap number. It would cost the Bears more to remove the contract from their cap sheet, as a $4.5MM dead-money figure would arrive in that instance. If the Bears cut Leatherwood, only Wright would remain as a former first-round pick on Chicago’s O-line. Jones emerged out of last year’s fifth round, while left guard Teven Jenkins and center Cody Whitehair were second-rounders. The Titans chose Davis in the 2019 third round.

Bears Sign Round 1 T Darnell Wright

The Bears now have their top 2023 draft choice under contract. Darnell Wright agreed to terms on his four-year rookie deal Monday. This locks the Tennessee prospect down through at least 2026.

Wright’s contract comes with the fifth-year option, which has existed in first-rounders’ contracts since 2011, allowing the Bears to keep the No. 10 overall pick tied to his rookie deal through 2027. Wright will be expected to carve out a starting role immediately.

Although the Bears were believed to have signed off on drafting Jalen Carter, that may have been one of this draft’s smokescreens. Chicago traded down from No. 9 to No. 10, marking its second trade-down maneuver of the first round, and let Philadelphia take a chance on the high-risk defensive tackle. The Bears then made Wright this draft’s second offensive lineman drafted.

Scouts Inc. slotted Wright as this draft’s fourth-best tackle prospect, but the Bears went with the Tennessee alum over local product Peter Skoronski and Georgia’s Broderick Jones. Wright brings plenty of experience to Chicago, having started 40 games at tackle. He brings more experience on the right side (27 starts) compared to the left side (13), something that is not the norm for first-round tackles. The 333-pound blocker served as the Volunteers’ primary right tackle starter in 2020 and 2022, lining up on the left side in 2021. He also made five starts at right tackle as a freshman in 2019.

Wright more than held his own against No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson Jr. in Tennessee’s shootout win over Alabama last season. The first-team All-SEC lineman will be expected to start at right tackle this season for the Bears, who are planning to keep promising 2022 fifth-rounder Braxton Jones at left tackle. The Bears added both Wright and Nate Davis to their O-line this offseason; they will be the favorites to start on the right side of Chicago’s front. Chicago pursued Mike McGlinchey in free agency but bowed out, allowing Denver to sign the five-year San Francisco right tackle. The Bears will now put their trust in Jones, the team’s first Round 1 tackle pick since Gabe Carimi in 2011.

The Bears also signed third-round defensive tackle Zacch Pickens (South Carolina) and fourth-round wide receiver Tyler Scott (Cincinnati) to their respective rookie deals Monday as well.

NFC North Notes: Hooker, Bears, OL, Packers

Hendon Hooker‘s age (25) likely served as one of the factors for his fall into Round 3. The ACL tear the Tennessee product sustained in November undoubtedly led to him tumbling out of the second round, his widely viewed floor. The Lions now have a developmental quarterback who, despite being drafted seven years after Jared Goff, is barely three years younger than the Detroit starter. Dan Campbell did not view Hooker’s age as a major issue.

We did go into this offseason saying that we wanted to bring in some competition at quarterback,” Campbell said during an appearance on Green Light with Chris Long podcast (h/t Pro Football Talk). “We didn’t know exactly where that might be, who that would be at the time, but we did like Hooker. We knew he was coming off the injury, but there was something about him that was appealing. He’s very mature; he looks the part; he’s got a big arm. H’s just got to learn to play in the NFL. He’s a pro, now, and I like the fact that he was older. We all kind liked the fact that he was older. I think you want your quarterback to be more mature.”

The Lions have begun discussions on a Goff extension. For now, the third-year Detroit starter is tied to his Rams-constructed deal that runs through 2024. Although Hooker should not be viewed as an heir apparent just yet, his rookie deal runs through 2026. Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • The Bears are set to hold a center competition between Cody Whitehair and Lucas Patrick. GM Ryan Poles said he is comfortable with either the longtime guard — who began his NFL career as a center — or the 2022 free agency pickup at center, Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com tweets. Whitehair, 31 in July, has started 107 games for the Bears, who drafted him in the 2016 second round. He spent the first three seasons of his career at center and has been on the radar to move since the Nate Davis free agent signing. A two-year Packers starter, Patrick started only five Bears games during an injury-plagued 2022 season.
  • Chicago will also move Teven Jenkins from right guard to left guard, Cronin adds (on Twitter), to accommodate Davis. The free agent pickup worked as the Titans’ starting right guard from 2019-22. Jenkins will soon move to a fourth O-line position. The Bears tried him at both tackle spots and dangled him in trade talks last year, but they saw the 2021 second-rounder show promise at guard last season. The other new Bears full-timer up front last season, Braxton Jones, is not moving from left tackle. Despite the addition of first-rounder Darnell Wright, Bears O-line coach Chris Morgan said (via Cronin) the team will keeping Jones at left tackle going into training camp. Wright logged more starts at right tackle (27) than left tackle (13) at Tennessee.
  • Set to hold their rookie minicamp later this week, the Lions will arrange for XFL return man Darrius Shepherd to try out. The XFL announced Shepherd, who also caught 48 passes for 519 yards with the St. Louis BattleHawks this season, will attend the Lions’ rookie camp. The 27-year-old wideout, a former UDFA out of North Dakota State, played for the Packers from 2019-20 but did not see NFL game action over the past two years.
  • One of the signees from this year’s International Pathway Program, the PackersKenneth Odumegwu, has never played organized football, Matt Schneidman of The Athletic tweets. The program, which expanded to two divisions (NFC North, AFC West) for the first time this year, provides an extra practice squad spot for an international player.

Bears Select OT Darnell Wright At No. 10

The Bears moved back one spot and got their guy. Chicago has used the 10th overall pick on Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter), the Bears intended to select Wright at No. 9 before the Eagles came in with a trade offer.

Chicago picked up a 2024 fourth-rounder in the swap and will check a key box on offense. The Bears pursued Mike McGlinchey but bowed out of those sweepstakes, letting the five-year 49ers right tackle starter sign a monster deal with the Broncos. Now, the Bears moved down a spot and landed a likely early-season starter at the position.

In Wright, the Bears added a 40-game college starter who has experience at both left and right tackle. Wright spent more time on the right side with the Volunteers, starting 27 games at that position. The experienced blocker enjoyed a showcase performance against eventual No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson Jr. last season, and the Bears chose him over Georgia’s Broderick Jones, who entered the draft with similar grades as a prospect.

Coming into the draft with needs along both lines, the Bears opted to address their offensive front first. The team had Jalen Carter available at No. 9, and although pre-draft reports indicated Chicago was comfortable with the Georgia defensive lineman, it does not seem like Ryan Poles‘ team was willing to make a big bet — seeing as it took just a 2024 fourth to send Carter to Philadelphia. The Bears are set to enter Round 2 with some additional needs on their defensive front, but the team is in much better shape regarding the protection of Justin Fields.

The Bears have now added Wright and four-year Titans guard starter Nate Davis up front. Chicago replaced Larry Borom at right tackle last season, plugging in veteran Riley Reiff. The nomadic blocker signed with the Patriots this offseason. If Wright becomes a Day 1 starter, he looks set to join late-round find Braxton Jones as Chicago’s first-string tackles. With 2021 second-rounder Teven Jenkins having shown promise at guard and Cody Whitehair having center experience, the Bears — after Fields took a league-high 55 sacks last season — are positioned to be an improved front in 2023.

Darnell Wright Visits Saints, Bears, Packers, Bills; Several More Planned

One of the fastest risers in the 2023 NFL Draft, Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright is currently such an enigma that even NFL teams don’t seem to have an idea on when his name will be called. Normally, a tackle prospect who takes Top 30 visits is targeted by teams in similar areas of the draft who believe he will be available when they have their opportunity to select. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, nearly 20 teams believe Wright will be there when they are on the clock.

We already reported that Wright was starting to climb boards back in February, noting that, after attending the Senior Bowl, the 21-year-old was not expected to slip past the first round of the draft. While many first-round linemen from Power 5 schools tend to find their way to the NFL as underclassmen, Wright is a rarity after playing four years with the Volunteers. The decision appears to have been the correct one as Wright was rewarded with a first-team All-SEC selection following his best year of collegiate play. Wright was a Lombardi award semifinalist after allowing zero sacks as a senior in one of the nation’s top offenses of 2022.

Wright began his reportedly lengthy tour with visits to New Orleans, Chicago, Green Bay, and Buffalo, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2. Following his visits with the Saints, Bears, Packers, and Bills, Wright is expected to visit the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Cardinals, Commanders, and Lions in the coming weeks leading up to the draft. That’s only nine teams. At least that many more are expected to spend time with Wright before the end of the month.

There’s a reason so many teams are under the assumption he’ll be available. He entered the Senior Bowl with many thinking he had plenty still to prove. Two months later and some consider him to be the top tackle prospect in this year’s draft. So far, he’s covered the full gamut from not a first rounder to top tackle on the board. Some teams may just be kicking the tires themselves to see what all the fuss is about, doing their own research, but teams in the later part of the first round shouldn’t entertain the thought of drafting Wright too much more if he continues to fly up draft boards.

NFL Draft Rumors: Richardson, TEs, Wright

Every year come draft time there are prospects that divide scouts and analysts. Never has that been more apt than this year with Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. We reported this dichotomy back when Richardson first announced his intentions in December, and nearly four months later, teams are still torn.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler went on NFL on ESPN to discuss first-round quarterbacks and the conversation eventually fell to Richardson. Fowler reported that he’s never seen “a bigger variance leaguewide on a feeling about a” quarterback, saying that while some talent evaluators have him as a first-round talent, others (sometimes on the same team) aren’t thinking to look for him until the fourth round.

Fowler believes that Richardson is a bit of a project who will need to find a situation in the NFL where he can sit for a year and develop but notes an NFL executive who calls Richardson a combination of Cam Newton and Justin Fields. Quoting NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 asserts that some teams have Richardson as the second-best quarterback on the board. I’ve personally seen a mock draft by Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports that has the Bears trading Fields and taking Richardson at No. 1 overall.

All this to reiterate sentiments from our breakdown of his initial draft announcement. Teams are evaluating Richardson off of 13 games of film of the one-year starter in Gainesville. That single season saw him complete only 54.2% of his passes for 2,631 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He added 680 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 115 rush attempts. He went 6-7 as a starter for the Gators. The college stats aren’t great, but there’s so little to work with that scouts are still betting on the potential he held as a four-star recruit coming out of high school.

Last year, experts predicted as many as four quarterbacks would be taken in the first round. Only Kenny Pickett actually heard his name on Day 1 of the draft. Evaluators are equally bullheaded this year on quarterbacks going early and often, but with nearly two months until Draft Day, there is still much that we don’t know.

Here are a few other quick notes on upcoming prospects:

  • Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer has long been thought of as the 2023 NFL Draft’s best prospect at the position. Well, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, one tight end made a strong case for himself at the Senior Bowl. Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave made a lasting impression on scouts at the all-star event. Musgrave measured at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds and impressed with his physicality, speed, route-running, and hands. Breer posits that Musgrave did enough to earn the top spot on position rankings.
  • Another prospect who may be higher than initially thought is Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright. The O-lineman also attended the Senior Bowl with many believing that he had a lot that he still needed to prove. According to Matt Miller of ESPN, Wright may have already done enough. Miller claims Wright is a top-32 prospect and finds it hard to believe that he’ll slip past the first round. The Volunteers didn’t expect to keep the consensus five-star out of West Virginia for all four years and the fact that they did had many thinking Wright is not a first-round talent. An impressive performance at the Senior Bowl and a first-team All-SEC selection in 2022 should prove otherwise as Wright continues to work towards the goal of hearing his name called on the first night of the draft.