After a season in which their offense visibly missed wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Cameron Meredith, the Bears made moves Wednesday toward repairing their depleted receiving corps. In a splashy signing that could give quarterback Mitch Trubisky a true big-play threat, the team agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal with Allen Robinson.
Robinson, who spent his first four seasons in Jacksonville, has bona fides that should excite Bears fans. The 24-year-old earned a Pro Bowl appearance in 2015 and averaged 67 catches and more than 900 yards a season over his first three years in the NFL. Robinson, for his part, seems jubilant about the move:
What’s good Chicago!!!? pic.twitter.com/DY11dfKxO1— Allen Robinson II (@Thee_AR15) 13 March 2018
The question mark on the pass catcher? A torn ACL that sidelined him for all but two minutes of gameplay last season, dinging his market value and calling his performance into question.
So what are the odds of rebounding from an ACL tear? There’s reason for optimism, but only to a degree. A 2006 University of Pennsylvania study found that between 1998 and 2002, 80 percent of NFL receivers and rushers returned from the injury. Within that group, performance dipped by a third on average. Another study, by Northwestern in 2016, found athletes faring slightly better, returning to 80 percent of their former strength. Based on last year’s numbers, that would put Robinson in line with guys like Michael Crabtree, Mike Wallace, and Danny Amendola.
That’s scary, given what the Bears paid for him. While they didn’t drain the bank on Robinson, $14 million annually is a quarter-million less than what Julio Jones, last year’s second leading receiver, earns with the Falcons. And it’s only $6 million total less than prized free agent Sammy Watkins just nabbed from the Chiefs. If Robinson bursts into Soldier Field in 2015 form, the Bears will have landed a franchise-saving steal. But if he comes back hampered, he could eat up cap space for years.
Of course, there are the miracles. Take onetime Vikings back Adrian Peterson, who in 2012 rushed for 2,097 yards after a late-2011 ACL tear. Or Jeremy Maclin, who had his first 1,000-yard receiving season after undergoing ACL surgery in 2013. There’s Reggie Wayne, who at the stately age of 35 returned from an ACL tear to haul in 64 catches on the season, and iconically, Jerry Rice, who in 1997 tore his ACL in the 49ers’ season opener and returned in Week 17.
Other success stories abound, from Tom Brady and Carson Palmer to offensive linemen like Bryan Bulaga and Jason Kelce. Should it happen for Robinson, the Bears will be dangerous. His arrival gives the team flexibility to look beyond offensive weapons in the draft, and they’ve already added two more solid pass catchers in Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton. If Robinson is what the Bears think he is—namely, healthy—they may have scored a key piece in their climb back to respectability.