After fracturing his foot for a second time, how much longer will the Bears hold out hope for Marquess Wilson?
The injury bug just won’t leave Marquess Wilson alone.
After it was reported that the 4th-year receiver left Tuesday’s mini-camp practice for “undisclosed reasons,” the news broke today that Wilson re-fractured the left foot that landed him on injured reserve at the end of last season, causing him to miss the final five games.
#Bears coach John Fox told reporters WR Marquess Wilson re-fractured his foot and will have surgery early next week.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 15, 2016
Though Chicago apparently does not intend to cut Wilson due to the injury, there’s a strong possibility that he lands on the PUP list and misses at least the first six weeks of the regular season. For a former 7th-round pick that has shown glimpses here and there of his play-making ability but hasn’t been able to stay on the field, it’s a crushing blow.
In all likelihood, Wilson had the inside track to be the fourth wide receiver spot behind Alshon Jeffery—who’s back in action at mandatory mini-camp—Kevin White, and Eddie Royal. Now going into his fourth season having only played in 28 games with only 47 catches and 617 yards to his name, it’s fair to wonder whether or not his time with the Bears could be over after this season, especially if he misses significant time again this year.
Had he stayed healthy coming into this training camp, that reality might have been even more present. As little as two weeks ago, Wilson was on many radars as the most likely Bears veteran to be released during training camp. According to ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson, one factor behind this line of thinking is that the crew of Marc Mariani, Josh Bellamy, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson, and new 7th-round pick Daniel Braverman are all significant contributors, or project to be contributors in Braverman’s case, on special teams whereas Wilson never really has been.
— Francø. (@FrvncoFootball) May 19, 2016
That said, Wilson’s talent as a receiver far out-strips any of the aforementioned names, and the Bears would likely be willing to overlook that limitation to Wilson’s game as long as he catches his fair share of passes.
The problem is that he hasn’t been on the field enough to make his case in that regard, thereby lessening his value. And now the durability issue, which has unfortunately arisen again at a completely inopportune time, has once again halted his development at a crucial point in the offseason and put his play-making ability on the shelf.
His unavailability for training camp, and possibly the first half of the regular season, also further casts a pall of uncertainty on an already uncertain wide receiver group for the Bears.
On paper, the talent is unmistakably there. Jeffery, when healthy, is probably a top-10 wide receiver in the NFL, putting up huge numbers in the only two seasons where he played all 16 games (89 catches, 1,421 yards, 7 TDs in 2013; 85 catches, 1,133 yards, 10 TDs in 2014) and even racking up nice numbers last season while battling injuries (54 catches, 807 yards, 4 TDs in nine games).
White, last year’s 7th-overall pick, is an imposing physical specimen that the Bears hope breaks out immediately opposite Jeffery. Royal had his best statistical season (91 catches, 980 yards, 5 TDs in 2008) with Jay Cutler at the helm in Denver and is looking to recapture that magic this year. Wilson managed 464 yards in limited action last year when pressed into service.
The problem is that none of the Bears’ projected four best receivers played more than 11 games last season (White obviously didn’t play at all), and there’s no guarantee that any of them are going to play a full season this year.
If the Bears are already tied in knots about what to do with Jeffery as he plays out this season on a $14 million franchise tag because of his injury history, what must they be thinking about a player that’s missed at least five games in each of his first three seasons and hasn’t managed to fully establish himself as a true threat even when healthy?
When taking stock of Wilson’s career as a Bear, it is important to note that he was viewed as a low-risk/high-reward type investment for Chicago: an early-round receiver talent out of Washington State that dropped to the 7th-round due to character concerns.
Ultimately, if his Bears’ tenure ends after this season, it won’t be—and shouldn’t be—viewed as an egregious waste of a draft pick the way that, say, we all think of the Shea McClellin pick. Sometimes, players are just bad, and sometimes they just have bad luck.
But the flashes that Wilson showed in his limited playing time with the Bears—the smooth striding speed in the open field, solid route-running for a young player, and the ability to pluck contested balls out of the air—have constantly left Bears fans, and likely the Bears organization, wanting more, which he hasn’t been able to give due to his various injuries.
At the end of the day, you have to be able to stay on the field in the NFL, and if the Bears’ reluctance to pay their only star receiver due to his injury risk is any indication, Wilson may be approaching the end of the line with the Bears sooner rather than later.