Coming off a 23-catch season and toting weed-stuffed baggage that almost certainly wouldn't qualify as carry-on, it's easy to dismiss the Chicago Bears' mid-August acquisition of former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. After a prolific career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Holmes faded into obscurity in Northern New Jersey with a putrid quarterback in a putrid offense.
The New York Jets can take a lot out of a man, and between the possession citation in 2008, the alleged nightclub altercation in 2010 and season-ending Lisfranc surgery in 2012, the 30-year old Holmes is a high-mileage option. Yet, there's reasonable optimism that he can fill an expanding void in this Bears offense.
Holmes was a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft of the Pittsburgh Steelers following an explosive career with the Ohio State Buckeyes. He made a huge impact as a wide receiver and return specialist as a rookie before going on to lead the NFL in yards per catch in 2007, win a Super Bowl MVP in 2008 and rack up 79 catches for 1,248 yards in 2009.
With big play ability manifesting as devastating speed that stretched the seam out of the slot, Holmes was a burgeoning star in Pittsburgh before the aforementioned nightclub incident cut his stay short.
He was traded to the Jets for a fifth-round pick, and he would go on to miss his first four games in 2010 for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
However, shortly after his return, Holmes caught game-winning touchdown passes in back-to-back weeks. He'd go on to catch a pair of touchdowns in the postseason while helping the young Jets earn a bid to their second straight AFC Championship Game.
The following season, he'd re-sign with the Jets, inking a five-year deal and being named captain. Unfortunately for Holmes, after just one more semi-productive season, he fell prey to injury and a rapidly deteriorating franchise.
In the spring of 2014, he was cut.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Bears receiving corps had developed into one of the most talented in the NFL. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall both earned Pro Bowl bids in 2013, and after failing to restructure Earl Bennett's contract, Marquess Wilson emerged as the talented new No. 3 option this offseason.
When Wilson went down with a broken collarbone shortly after the start of training camp, the Bears were left scrambling for options. They gave veteran Eric Weems some serious run at the No. 3, but a putrid performance in the second preseason game as a receiver and returner prompted the Bears to release the specialist, making way for Holmes.
Chicago had worked Holmes out earlier in the summer, but ultimately passed in lieu of Wilson's emerging star. However, now the depth chart sizes up well for Holmes, and if the 30-year old is healthy and happy, he's got a chance to resurrect his career in Chicago just like Marshall — albeit on a smaller scale.
With two mammoth options on the edge and Martellus Bennett to abuse safeties and linebackers up the seam and across the middle, the Bears certainly have use for a quicker, more polished option out of the slot. And while Holmes may not have the 4.38 speed that he showed at the NFL Combine fresh out of Columbus, he's still capable of working underneath and occasionally stretching the seam to give Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler an intriguing third option at receiver.
In order to be successful, Santonio Holmes doesn't have to be a Super Bowl MVP. He doesn't have to lead the league in yards per catch, and he doesn't have to have 1,000 yards receiving.
He simply has to buy into a lesser role in an offense with designs on being truly great. He's got to prove that he's healthy and turn himself into the established veteran presence that he is.
He's got to make occasionally great plays to extend drives and be able to take the verbal beating from Jay Cutler when he doesn't.
Basically, he's got to be Earl Bennett without drawing Earl's salary.
Whether or not he can do that is yet to be seen. He's far from a lock to make this roster, although his experience certainly gives him a leg up over all the youngsters he's competing with to earn a spot.
However, if he can do it and he's productive in a conventional sense of the word, at 30 years old, Holmes may be able to segue a year in Chicago into another modest payday, be it in Chicago or someplace else. More importantly, on a team with designs on winning and winning now, he may get a shot at hoisting the big trophy once more.
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