This depth free agent WR could replace Tarik Cohen on Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears will have a decision to make on Tarik Cohen and considering they can save some money by moving on, that may be the path that they take. Former General Manager Ryan Pace traded for Jakeem Grant to replace Cohen last season after Cohen suffered a setback in his ACL recovery.
Still, Grant is a free agent this offseason, so the Bears could cut Cohen, lose Grant, and not have a return man on special teams, or a speedy offensive weapon on offense. With new coaches coming in, they will likely what their people to come in, and one player that could step in to the role that Grant and Cohen had in past seasons, it would be Richie James.
The Chicago Bears hired Rich Hightower, who has been around the NFL but was a special teams coach with the 49ers from 2017-2021. Over that span, his team was never really a great kick return team, except the seasons in which James was back to return.
Below you can see the number of returns that James has had per season, then below that is the DVOA on kick returns that the 49ers posted.
2019 – 20
2021 – 0
DVOA by year
2018 – 1.7
2019 – 1.3
2020 – (-5)
It is pretty easy to see the correlation here. Even the year in which he had just four returns happens to be the third-best season in the Hightower era. Beyond that, the most returns lead to the most value above the average. The 49ers’ best season in punt return value was also 2019, a season when Richie James was their lead punt return man.
It is not like Cohen or Grant were huge impact players on offense, and even when Cohen was playing most of his offensive snaps, he was in the slot. With that in mind, it would make sense that Grant could step in and replace either on offense, especially if he would be the Bears’ return man.
A knee injury cut the 2020 season short, and similar to Cohen, the recovery dipped into his 2021 season. Still, James is 26 years old and would be cheaper than Cohen. So cheap that he would likely not even take up the money that they save from cutting Cohen. He may come cheaper than the dead cap that the Bears will eat to move on from Cohen.
At that point, there is little risk and a potentially nice reward. James obviously can return kicks well, and Hightower knows that one unit’s success hinged on him during his tenure with the 49ers. We are talking about a number five or six wide receivers on the depth chart, but considering he would be the number one return man, it could be an under-the-radar signing that goes a long way if the Bears do sign Richie James.