Why new Chicago Bears WR Keenan Allen is excited about his fresh start: ‘Nothing changes but the jersey for me’

The Chicago Bears sent the private jet for Keenan Allen on Friday afternoon, giving him a little luxury to help pass the time on his life-changing trip from Southern California to Wheeling. It was Allen’s first time flying non-commercial. But with his wife and four kids — ages 3 to 9 — in tow, he didn’t spend much time in the skies contemplating his future or reflecting on the whirlwind stretch this week that ended his 11-year run with the Chargers and has him now ready to begin a new era with the Bears.

“I didn’t think about too much, man,” Allen said Saturday morning at Halas Hall. “Just kind of laid down, enjoyed the time with the kids and the wife, and sat back. Just took it all in to actually understand that this is really all happening.”

Indeed, after 139 games and 904 catches with the Chargers, Allen is now an employee at 1920 Football Drive in Lake Forest, part of a franchise whose career receiving yards record of 5,059 was set 57 years ago by Johnny Morris. For what it’s worth, Allen surpassed that total in 2018, in his sixth NFL season.

So yes, Chicago, the excitement of how Allen’s arrival might elevate the Bears passing attack is justifiable.

Make no mistake. There will be a challenging transition ahead. Allen has played football on the West Coast since leaving Greensboro, N.C., for the University of California in 2010. Thus, on the life side of things, he and his wife, Ciandra Monique, will have to figure out their family logistics of where everyone will live and how they’ll handle the schooling situation for the kids. But when it comes to Allen getting his feet on the ground on the field, he has zero anxiety.

“Football is football,” he said. “That’s what I do.”

Allen’s football life certainly took an abrupt and unexpected turn this week when Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz approached him about possibly taking a pay cut to aid the team’s salary-cap crunch. Allen declined and was, surprisingly, unaffected by the conversation or the consequences.

“There really was no emotion,” Allen said. “It was, ‘I’m not doing it.’ I just came off my best season. So it’s not happening.”

Just like that, the Chargers initiated trade talks. And Allen became a Bear when GM Ryan Poles offered Hortiz a fourth-round pick (No. 110) in next month’s draft. Allen said Saturday that the New York Jets and Houston Texans also had interest.

The career-best season Allen referenced was a 108-catch, 1,243-yard, seven-touchdown eruption. “It was going pretty good,” Allen said.

All of that production came in the Chargers’ first 13 games before a heel bruise ended the receiver’s season. It was proof that, even with his 32nd birthday coming next month, Allen has enough gas left in the tank to produce at a high level.

The Bears are banking on that production continuing, viewing Allen as a great complement to DJ Moore and readying to turn him loose in an offense that will also feature running back D’Andre Swift and tight end Cole Kmet.

Allen is particularly enthused about joining forces with Moore.

“Anytime you’ve got two guys who can make plays and beat man coverage, it’s going to be tough,” he said.

A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Allen also has taken great pride in his ability over the years to be a dangerous weapon on third downs. He doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“It’s knowledge,” Allen said. “(It’s) understanding what you’re looking at and understanding what’s coming and having that clock of when the quarterback has to get rid of the ball.”

For now, there’s still some mystery as to who will be throwing Allen the football when the season begins in September. Justin Fields remains on the Bears roster as the offseason quarterback carousel spins around the league. Still, there’s a consensus inside league circles that the Bears are likely to replace Fields with Caleb Williams, the standout USC quarterback who is widely regarded as the top prospect in the draft.

Allen said Saturday that he met Williams once and described him as “a down-to-earth, chill guy.” He also has seen enough of Williams’ highlights to offer a thumbnail scouting report.

“Hell of an athlete,” Allen said. “Obviously he can make tremendous plays with his feet and with his arm. It looks like he knows the game really well.”

Allen, too, knows the game well. Over 11 seasons, he has built his reputation as one of the smoothest route runners in the game and a playmaker who consistently makes life easier on quarterbacks.

So if the Bears draft a quarterback next month, Allen believes his presence will be beneficial to the development process.

“I’m just a friendly guy,” Allen said with a smile. “I’m a friendly guy on and off the field. Obviously on the football field, I know the game. I know the ins and outs. I know the zones. I know how to beat man (coverage). I know how to play the game. I’m friendly for the quarterback because I’ll be in the right spots.”

Maybe Allen didn’t have a ton of opportunity to think about all those things on his flight Friday, on that first leg of this demanding but opportunity-filled transition. But he’ll have his chances for rumination in the weeks and months ahead as he begins his time with the Bears — in a new city with a new organization but with the same mindset.

“Nothing changes but the jersey for me,” Allen said. “The last name on the back is still going to be the same. That’s what I’m carrying.”