Kevin White broke his left shoulder, coach John Fox revealed Monday, sending the wide receiver back to the place he’s known best since the Bears drafted him seventh overall in 2015: injured reserve.
Surgery is a possibility, Fox said one day after Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley tackled White in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener and he left the stadium in a sling.
The IR trip ensures White won’t return soon this season, if at all. Even if White recuperates, the Bears can only activate two players off IR, and only after eight weeks spent on the shelf.
“My heart goes out to him,” Fox said. “He was very disappointed and discouraged in the locker room after the game — for obvious reasons. Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to him. He was pretty upset about it (Sunday) night, and they’re doing evaluations right now. “
Return or not, the Bears can’t trust White to stay healthy again.
They’ve played 33 regular-season games since drafting White.
He’s finished three.
White’s shoulder injury cements what had already appeared to be an easy decision for the Bears, who will likely decide this upcoming offseason to decline his fifth-year option for 2019.
White, who has 21 career catches for 193 yards, likely would have had to post a Pro Bowl-caliber season this year to be worth the option price; the Buccaneers’ receiver Mike Evans, the No. 7 pick a year before White, is scheduled to make more than $13 million in his fifth season — though that’s likely a starting point for an extension.
If White cannot return this season — or even if he can — the Bears must plan for life without him. That leaves White’s presence on the team next season up for debate. The Bears could take the same wait-and-see approach they did with another former first-round pick, cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had to play well in camp to make this year’s team. He’ll be a free agent after the season because the Bears declined his fifth-year option.
In the interim, the Bears will scramble to find bodies to bolster a wide receiver room weakened by the loss of another starter, Cam Meredith, to a torn left ACL late last month.
For the second-straight day, Fox listed Markus Wheaton, who the Bears guaranteed $6 million but is recovering from pinkie surgery, and waiver claim Tre McBride, who was a healthy scratch Sunday, as options.
Wheaton wore a “major club” to protect his left hand while being limited in practice last week, Fox said. He could return Sunday or the next week.
“Then we’ll have some options, looking around the league as well,” Fox said.
Teaching the playbook to a new receiver — either signed or acquired via trade — is a challenge, Fox said. McBride, who the Bears claimed away from the Titans on cut day, is living that.
“That’s all part of when injuries happen in the league, is how thick your roster is at that position and how fast you can get a guy schooled up,” Fox said. “We dealt with that more than our share last year, and it’s not unusual, but we’ll adjust.”
Undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry, a training camp sensation now playing on the practice squad, could also be an option, Fox said. The Bears figure to lean on their tight ends and running backs, who already totaled more catches than their receivers did Sunday.
“I think our role is going to increase and we’ll have to be ready to step up,” tight end Dion Sims said. “It’ll be the same, just coming out and expecting the ball and expecting to make plays.”
Until then, all the Bears can do is shake their heads. Defensive end Akiem Hicks was on the sideline Sunday when White came off in pain.
“I’m going to be completely honest — that hurt me to see that,” Hicks said.
He admitted he’s never seen anyone be lost for three-straight seasons, if that’s indeed White’s case.
“Everybody gets hit — it’s a tough physical game,” he said. “He hasn’t been able to catch a break.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley