Subtracting leading receiver Bernard Berrian from a pedestrian passing game would have been bad enough for the Chicago Bears, but losing him to a division rival over money is even worse.
Initially rejecting a five-year, $25 million contract from the Bears just before the free agency period began, Berrian signed a six-year deal Saturday with NFC North rival Minnesota. After breaking out in 2006 with 51 receptions for 775 yards and six touchdowns, Berrian led Chicago with 71 catches for 951 yards while scoring five TDs this past season. Originally a third-round selection out of Fresno State, the former Bulldog has reeled in 150 balls for 2,197 yards and 15 scores in four years.
Berrian instantly becomes the Vikings' top target through the air, and his ability to stretch the field vertically will only be helped by the presence of Offensive Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson in the backfield.
JC's Take: Most Bears fans were resigned to the fact that the team was going to lose Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs in free agency, but there was still hope that Berrian would be brought back – that hope has now been shattered.
With Berrian now a memory and Muhsin Muhammad released back on Feb. 18, suddenly the Midway Monsters have to replace both of their starting wide receivers from the last two years. Fourth-year pro Mark Bradley is now the most experienced wideout on the roster, yet he posted a grand total of six receptions for 71 yards in 2007. The only pass-catchers currently under contract are converted cornerback Devin Hester and practice-squad veterans Mike Hass and Brandon Rideau.
Head coach Lovie Smith said in his press conference at the NFL Combine that the organization values Berrian as a No. 1 receiver and will do whatever it can to keep him in the Windy City, but ultimately deciding not to put the franchise tag on him looks to have been a huge mistake.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.