Could DeAndre Hopkins be Bears' answer to No. 1 receiver issue?

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Could Hopkins be answer to Bears' No. 1 WR question? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Bears are aware of the predicament they put quarterback Justin Fields in this season, asking him to make significant strides forward with a patchwork offensive line and no legitimate No. 1 receiver.

When evaluating Fields' second NFL season, one that saw him rank 26th in the NFL in pass attempts and 25th in yards, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy looks at his young quarterback's instincts and leadership, not the stats.

"Becoming a pro, the leadership," Getsy said Thursday about where he has seen Fields' growth this season. "I think he got challenged last week with what happened with Chase [Claypool] on the sideline, and he handled that. That's him becoming the leader of the football team and being a great pro and consistent every day. I think that's the most important thing.

"Then all the other stuff, those guys see every day on the practice field. They see him getting better every day. The results of it, the statistics that everyone's looking for, those will come. And we know that. Like I said, the most important thing is that we continue to see growth."

Fields, who the Bears shut down Wednesday with a strained hip, electrified as a playmaker during the 2022 season. He came just 64 yards shy of breaking Lamar Jackson's single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

But he still has a lot of work to do to become a proven, consistent NFL passer.

Most of the onus will fall on Fields' shoulders. But there's no doubt that getting him a true No. 1 receiver can add fuel to his developmental rocket.

"I would say when you have any type of weapon to that type of degree, like those two guys you mentioned, I think it’s, you affect the way a defensive coordinator calls the game," Getsy said about how elite wide receivers impact a game before Week 16. "And I think Justin affects the way defensive coordinators call the game, and so the more players you have on the field that are like that, I mean that makes it really challenging.

"When you have dynamic people it makes it really hard for a defensive coordinator to dial in on anything. So having that upper-echelon receiver obviously creates more opportunities for everybody, not just the other receivers."

The Bears are just five days away from starting a critical offseason in which they need to reshape both lines of scrimmage and add weapons to a thin arsenal. The hope is the Bears will find a way to acquire an elite wide receiver to help Fields take a leap, just as the Eagles, Bills, and Dolphins helped their respective young quarterbacks by adding superstar receivers.

Could Mike Evans be the answer? Tee Higgins? Brandon Aiyuk? What about DeAndre Hopkins?

The 30-year-old receiver might be the best name potentially available on the trade market this season. With Kyler Murray tearing his ACL on December 12, the 2023 season might be a good opportunity for the Cardinals, who enter Week 18 at 4-12, to start a soft rebuild.

Hopkins is due $19.5 million in base salary in 2023. That's not a killer in today's wide receiver market.

Should the Cardinals trade Hopkins this offseason, it would mean $19.5 million in savings and $11.3 million in dead money. That's not terrible for a team that could likely be headed toward a rebuild.

But Hopkins, as talented as he is, doesn't make a ton of sense for Fields and the Bears.

Hopkins will be 31 in July and underwent knee surgery last December. Discomfort from that knee has bothered Hopkins for most of this season, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday.

The Bears are still in the early stages of a rebuild. The 2023 season should, in theory, be better than the three-win campaign they are about to finish.

But if the end goal of a rebuild is to win titles, you want your blue-chip, premium-position players to be in their prime when you're ready to contend. Hopkins will either be on the backend of his prime or out of it entirely by the time the Bears plan to be a factor in the championship picture.

Hopkins is a tremendous talent. His projected 17-game totals for this season, if you take out the game started by Trace McSorley, are: 134 catches, 1,515 yards, and six touchdowns. He would be a boon to the Bears' passing game, but he might not be the fit this regime is looking to add.

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To Getsy, it's not about just getting a No. 1. It's about Fields having a better connection with all receivers.

“I don’t want to just dial into where it has to be a clearcut No. 1," Getsy said Thursday. "I think it’s the quarterback-receiver relationship is critical. I think that establishing that, having that consistently each and every week is critical to both of their successes. I think when you’re throwing the football, usually the person’s not where they’re supposed to be already, and so the anticipation of body movements and angles and depths and how a guy reacts to a particular leverage that he’s faced, I think all that stuff and having those reps behind it, is vital. It’s the most critical thing to the passing game.

"I don’t want to limit it to there has to be just a No. 1 receiver. I think it’s probably more valuable to see OK these are my consistent guys or guy that you’re throwing to each and every week.”

That's all well and good. But an elite No. 1 receiver would do a lot to help the NFL's 32nd-ranked passing offense to take a big step forward in 2023.

Hopkins would be an imperfect solution to a pressing issue. Whether or not the Bears will have the patience to wait for the right answer will help shape their offseason road into a huge season for Fields and the regime.

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