2016 NFL Free Agency: Predicting Deonte Thompson's chances to return to the Bears

2016 NFL Free Agency: Predicting Deonte Thompson's chances to return to the Bears
Bears wide receiver Deonte Thompson runs for a 74-yard return on a kickoff by the San Francisco 49ers with less than two minutes in the fourth quarter on December 6, 2015. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

This is the first part of an in-depth series that will examine the status of the Chicago Bears’ top free agents.

The Bears have 23 free agents, including 18 unrestricted free agents this off-season and with free agency officially opening up next Wednesday, March 9, it’s time to dig deep.

After breaking down guard Patrick Omameh and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins on Friday, I’ll take a look at wide receiver/kick returner Deonte Thompson’s chances of returning to Chicago.

Who: Wide receiver/kick returner, 27-year-old from the University of Florida

2015 contract: Played on a one-year, $660,000 deal

After spending the first two seasons of his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens, Deonte Thompson latched on with the Buffalo Bills late in 2014 and played there up until reaching an injury settlement last September. Following that, the Bears picked up him and placed him on their practice squad. In Week 10, Thompson was promoted to the active roster and immediately made an impact as a return man.

Against Green Bay in an upset win on Thanksgiving night, Thompson had a 37-yard return. The following week versus San Francisco, he returned two kickoffs for 92 yards including a 74-yarder. Overall, he totaled 14 kickoff returns for 409 yards, an average of 29.2 yards per return after replacing the inefficient Marc Mariani.

He made a splash offensively with two receptions for a total of 81 yards, a 36-yarder in Week 14 against Washington and a career-long 45 yarder in the season finale against Detroit.

At 6’0″, 203 lbs, Thompson isn’t the biggest of receivers, but he’s both fast and strong. He ended up playing just 44 total snaps on offense, but his presence on special teams as a return man was the best the Bears have had since Devin Hester departed after the 2013 season.

Why he’ll be back

Thompson proved to be a legitimate kick return man and at times was a nice deep threat offensively. He’s a confident returner and brings an added dimension to special teams. He’ll most certainly come at a cheap price and if the Bears want to give him more snaps as a situational receiver I don’t see why they wouldn’t. Thompson is worth re-signing and the Bears should give him a chance to earn a place on the roster.

Why he won’t be back

With Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal, Marquess Wilson, Cameron Meredith under contract, the Bears won’t be adding too many more receivers this off-season. Wideouts Nathan Palmer and Marcus Lucas are also on the roster signed to futures/reserves contracts. Marc Mariani has a chance to return as a nice slot option, but if Thompson wants his shot as the man he’ll likely have to beat him out. Thompson and Mariani will be fighting for one spot unless the Bears opt to add a younger player in the draft. It will come down to who wants it more. Mariani’s skills as a wideout could keep him in town, but then again Thompson is one heck of a returner.

Final Prediction

Thompson will be back next season

Up next: Linebacker Sam Acho

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