‘Kind of tough to answer’: Keenan Allen talks contract, Caleb Williams, Bears defense and driving in the snow

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Keenan Allen’s first media appearance at Halas Hall Tuesday was marked by contract talks, his views on rookies Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze, a lack of driving experience in the snow, and how “annoying” the Chicago Bears defense is to practice against.

“They look like a top five defense, sound like a top five defense too,” Allen said with a smile.

For the six-time Pro Bowler, Tuesday was his first taste of action against a defensive unit that has been vastly improved since the acquisition of defensive end Montez Sweat before last year’s trade deadline. In their first eight games, the Bears gave up 27.3 points per game, but after acquiring Sweat, they gave up an average of 17.9 points per game over their final nine contests.

“Defenses are annoying,” Allen said. “Especially in practice, hearing them every time they make a play.”

(S)no(w) way!

Outside of matching up against pesky defenders in Chicago’s secondary like Jaylon Johnson and Kevin Byard — Who had a pick six during team drills in camp Tuesday — Allen also elaborated on his transition from living on the West Coast, to now calling Chicago his new home, which was a task that led to the star wide receiver’s absence during offseason OTA’s.

“I’ve been in California for 15 years going on now,” Allen said. “My family still lives there. I still have a house there. Like I said, I haven’t been here the past two weeks so, I was in California.

“It’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment. I haven’t lived without them my whole time in the NFL. Just going to have to figure it out, being by myself for a little while and you know, just keeping the main thing the main thing — Going out and being myself on the football field and staying focused.”

Allen has also spent most of his life in fair weather climates. Born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, he played college football at California-Berkeley before training for the 2013 NFL Draft in Boca Raton, Florida, and being drafted in the third round by the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers.

All that California and Florida sunshine begs the question, has Allen driven in the snow before?

“I mean, I’m from North Carolina. It snows — Nothing like this — But we get a couple of snow days and we don’t go to school for it,” Allen said. “I’m sure they still go to school for it out here, but I haven’t driven in the snow.”

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Allen and the rookies

Allen, like fellow veteran skill position players DJ Moore and D’Andre Swift, will inevitably play an important role in the development of the Bears two top draft picks this offseason, Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze, which he got a jumpstart on almost from the moment Chicago acquired him in a deal with the Chargers back in March.

“I had just got traded and coach [Matt Eberflus] told me he was going to be there,” Allen said. “Ryan [Poles] told me he was going to be there. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come through.’ It’s right down the street from my house so, I didn’t have enough better to do.”

Since then, Allen said he’s come to recognize the “tremendous talent” that Williams possesses, while Odunze has impressed with how fast he has absorbed the nuances of the Bears’ playbook, but there’s still plenty of ground to cover for not just them, but also Allen and the entire offense too.

“He’s obviously a guy who has tremendous talent, but it’s going to a be a work in progress,” Allen said of Williams. “He just came out of college. The huddle, call, having new terminology. For myself, some of the plays are the same, but the terminology is different.

“So, you hear one word and you automatically go back to what [you were] hearing last year, but you have to transfer it to this year, and it’s like same play, different word. So, you just got to mix-and-match it. That’s kind of [how] he’s going to have to grow to it, and it takes a while.”

Odunze, who was back on the field during the first day of mandatory minicamp after being held out with hamstring tightness during the first day of OTA’s, continues to flash both his physical abilities and football IQ.

“Rome looks great. He’s the guy who’s stepped in and he’s been with the ones right off the bat,” Allen said. “He’s running around pretty good. He knows what he’s doing.

“First [thing] coming in, we haven’t even got to training camp and he already knows where to go, where to line up, where to be at so, that’s huge.”

Besides being able to offer words of wisdom from his 11-plus years in the NFL so far, Allen can also offer an ongoing second-hand assessment of Williams’ development as a quarterback, given he’s had the likes of Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert under center up until this point in his career.

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Rivers had eight Pro Bowl selections across his 17-year career and was voted the 2013 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. The North Carolina State alum averaged 4,160 passing yards and 27.6 touchdowns per season during his NFL career.

Herbert has earned one Pro Bowl selection and was voted the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. Over four NFL seasons so far, he has averaged 4,306 passing yards and 28.5 touchdowns per year.

For comparison’s sake, the best passing season in Bears history belongs to Erik Kramer (also a North Carolina State alum) in 1995 when he threw for 3,838 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, two numbers that still stand today as single-season franchise records.

“I think the best thing is confidence,” Allen said of what Williams could learn from his previous quarterbacks. “Both Philip [Rivers] and Justin [Herbert] have tremendous confidence. They believe in their arm, they believe in their talent and they believe in what they see. You’ve got to be able to see it. You got to be able to make something happen right now.

“If you second guess yourself, just for a little bit and you hang on it too long, something bad can happen. So, just understanding what you’re looking at and make a play.”

Contract Talks

A leading headline surrounding the Bears for the foreseeable future will be how they maneuver the contract situation with Allen, who was traded to Chicago with one year remaining on a four-year/$80.1 million deal he signed back in 2020 with Los Angeles.

According to Spotrac, Allen is due a base salary of $18.1 million with a $5 million roster bonus in 2024, and will enter unrestricted free agency if he and the Bears do not come to an agreement by the end of this season.

“That’s kind of tough to answer right now. I’m going to play as long as I can,” Allen said when he was asked about the future of his playing career. “As far as extension, we would like the play to speak for itself, and if [the Bears] offered me something that I like, then we’ll go from there.”

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Allen also reiterated that his contract situation isn’t a stressor for him at this point in the offseason, given how the market for wide receivers has positively trended over recent weeks.

His focus at this moment in time is exclusively on the football field.

“Absolutely. I mean, that’s the goal right now — Is to go out and do what I always do and just try to remain who I am,” Allen said. “You know, the market just got reset so…”

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson signed a four-year/$140 million extension on Monday, while Detroit Lions wide receiver signed a four-year/$120 million extension at the end of April.

Mandatory minicamp for the Chicago Bears runs from June 4 to June 6, with training camp next up in July.

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