The only tangible piece of the Chicago Bears’ blockbuster draft trade last week was headed down his driveway to pick up packages when the phone call came through from the Carolina Panthers.
Wide receiver DJ Moore has known only the Panthers organization over five NFL seasons after they drafted him in the first round in 2018. He gave them remarkable consistency despite a rotating cast of quarterbacks, averaging 123 catches and 1,040 yards per season and earning a second contract.
But the Panthers want to end that quarterback instability, and the Bears crave production from a wide receiver. So the Panthers were calling to let Moore know he would be headed to Chicago as a critical piece of the Bears’ trade of the No. 1 pick.
Moore didn’t dwell long on the emotions of leaving his only NFL home, focusing instead on the new journey ahead as a bunch of “love” from Bears representatives poured in.
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“At that point, it was just like, ‘We are going to start somewhere new,’” Moore said at an introductory news conference Thursday at Halas Hall. “That put a chip on my shoulder because we’ve got to go somewhere new. Other than that, I was just like ‘(the Panthers) wanted to move up and get rid of me, so I’m going to go somewhere where I’m loved.’”
Bears general manager Ryan Poles said Thursday that he was “over the moon” about adding Moore to a trade haul for the No. 1 pick that included the Nos. 9 and 61 picks in this year’s draft, a first-rounder in 2024 and a second-rounder in 2025.
The path to the trade had “a lot of twists and turns,” Poles said. He talked with Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer early in the process. Other teams moved in and out of the conversation. Compensation packages changed. At one point, Poles thought a deal was done, but talks pushed on for another couple of days.
Dropping to the Panthers’ No. 9 spot potentially moves the Bears out of range for the top tier of players in this year’s draft. Poles classified that tier as six or seven players deep, quarterbacks included. But he said that’s where the addition of a “top-end player” such as Moore came into play. Moore signed a three-year, $61.9 million extension with the Panthers last March, so he’s under contract through 2025. And he fills a big need for a No. 1 receiver on the Bears offense.
Eventually, Poles got to a spot where he was ready to move nearly seven weeks before the draft.
“The noise around (the trade return) was crazy compensation, but at some point when you feel comfortable with what you’re receiving, you pull the trigger,” Poles said. “Sometimes you wait too long and things move on. Trades are hard. … They’re not comfortable conversations, especially when (a team is) moving on from a player. So the longer that you’re talking about it and thinking about it, you can start to sway a little bit. So when we hit a position where I was comfortable, we were good with it.”
How the trade is ultimately judged will depend on the players the Panthers and Bears draft with their new picks. But Moore is the one concrete detail that can be evaluated now, and Poles expressed excitement about what the Philadelphia native and Maryland product can bring on and off the field. He said Moore fits the culture the Bears are trying to build and is a receiver who can create separation and make big plays.
“This league shows you good teams have guys that make big plays in big moments,” Poles said. “That’s finishing a game off in the fourth quarter or that’s getting things kicked off in the beginning. DJ has those traits.”
Fans who have watched the Bears cycle through quarterbacks before current starter Justin Fields can empathize with what Moore went through in Carolina with eight quarterbacks starting at least one game in five years.
But that makes Moore’s three straight seasons with at least 1,100 receiving yards from 2019-21 all the more impressive.
“I never really looked at it as instability,” Moore said of the Panthers quarterback situation. “I always make connections with all the quarterbacks on the team, no matter who it is. I really don’t care who goes in the game or anything. I’ve just got to go out there and do my job.
“I won’t call that a mess, but (to) come to a better situation with a stable quarterback, the sky’s the limit from there.”
Moore, who will be 26 next month, already has spent time with Fields and wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, who all were spotted together at the Chicago Bulls game Wednesday night.
Moore said he, Mooney and Claypool have talked about how together they’re “just going to elevate the offense and just elevate Justin at the same time.”
“Because I’m not just here to be like, ‘I’m here,’ just like a bright light,” Moore said. “I’m here to make everyone around me better. And we just want to try to get some wins.”
Moore arrives in Chicago with former teammate P.J. Walker, who signed a two-year contract to be a backup quarterback.
Walker said he was shocked to hear of the Bears-Panthers trade but he’s excited to be at his next stop with his former neighbor in Charlotte. Walker called Moore “a receiver that can do running back things with the football in his hands” and touted his speed, strength and smarts.
“When I was in Carolina with him, a lot of times watching, he was out of the huddle before the play was finally finished (being called),” Walker said. “You’ve got a smart guy out there who knows where to line up, knows the routes, can help the guys around him. …
“His talent speaks for itself. But the little things like being smart, knowing where to be, knowing coverages, knowing how to break down zones, that’s something I was very impressed with when I first got to Carolina.”