Keenan Allen was a surprise guest at Caleb Williams’ pro day — and the Chicago Bears think the WR will keep showing up for the likely No. 1 pick

When Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus settled in at USC’s pro day last month in Los Angeles, they saw someone who isn’t on their staff on the field in a Bears warmup jacket.

To their surprise, Keenan Allen, their newest wide receiver, had arrived to watch potential No. 1 draft pick Caleb Williams work out for NFL executives and coaches.

When Eberflus greeted Allen, the 11-year veteran told the coach he was “trying to go incognito.”

“I said: ‘You’re in Bears gear and you’ve got your Keenan Allen beard sticking out. I don’t know if you’re pulling that off right now,’” Eberflus recalled last week at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. “It was great to see him and it was great to visit with him a little bit more, too, and talk to him about his process. … I thought it was really cool that he showed up.”

The idea behind the Bears trading a 2024 fourth-round pick to acquire Allen in March is that he’ll keep showing up for Williams should they draft the USC quarterback later this month.

Poles said he saw the addition of the six-time Pro Bowl selection — ahead of the Bears installing a rookie quarterback — as “an absolute perfect fit” with a group that includes wide receiver DJ Moore and tight ends Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett.

“I don’t think there’s a better receiver in the league that can be better for a young quarterback in terms of understanding the NFL, timing, space, reading defenses,” Poles said. “It balances the field with DJ on the other side, Cole and Everett at tight end, (D’Andre) Swift at running back. We have a lot of really cool things that can get going and allow us to be dynamic and really special.”

Allen, who will turn 32 this month, had spent all 11 of his seasons with the Chargers. But new GM Joe Hortiz, in an effort to get the team’s salary-cap situation under control, approached Allen about a pay cut last month.

Hortiz told Los Angeles reporters that the Chargers presented options to Allen, including an extension. But Allen — who totaled a career-high 108 catches for 1,243 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games in 2023 — declined.

Allen said at his introductory news conference at Halas Hall that there was no emotion in that decision. He was coming off his best season despite a heel bruise that kept him out for four games, so he said, “I’m not doing it.”

The Chargers entered into trade talks, including with the Houston Texans and New York Jets, according to Allen. And the Bears, who had been weighing other veteran options at wide receiver, jumped into action.

“That’s one of the things that our staff does really well, identify potential cap casualties based on what other teams are looking to do,” Poles said. “We didn’t have total clarity on it, but when it happened we were able to adjust and get into some conversations that we could capitalize on it.

“My time in KC, I watched him do some really cool things for a long period of time, and to watch the tape it actually blew me away of how high of a level he’s still playing at his age.”

Allen has one year left on his contract — with an $18.1 million base salary and a $5 million roster bonus — but adding a player of his talent and experience felt worth it to the Bears.

New Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh said of course he wanted Allen on the team, but this was “the business part of the NFL.”

“Everybody does what’s in their best interest,” Harbaugh said at the AFC coaches breakfast last week. “And Keenan, he made $23 million a year and (now will) play in Chicago. Who’s got it better? Happy for Keenan.”

When asked if he had any involvement in the trade for Allen, Bears Chairman George McCaskey said, “None.” Though a day after the trade, the Bears did send a private jet to pick up Allen, his wife and four children to bring them to Halas Hall for his official introduction.

“(Poles) doesn’t say, ‘Can I have 23 million dollars?’ He says, ‘I need 23 million dollars,’” McCaskey joked. “It’s great to have him on the other side of DJ. Who are they going to double? That’s what I’m thinking.”

Poles said discussions about a contract extension for Allen might come “down the road.” He tries to be intentional about the order of the extensions he offers.

“We’ll review that and see what our order looks like,” Poles said. “But for what he stands for, I would love to have him long term.”

In the short term, the Bears think they have a lot to look forward to. Eberflus said he’s intrigued by Allen’s “situational excellence.”

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“When you’ve got to have a play, he can make that play,” Eberflus said. “He’s been great on third down, great in two-minute, great in critical situations. He’s disciplined and just a master route runner and he has the ability to be open and stay open with his body.”

That’s part of the reason the Bears think Allen will be a key cog in the support structure around their future rookie quarterback.

During his visit to Halas Hall, Allen said he had met Williams and described him as a “down-to-earth, chill guy.”

“Hell of an athlete,” Allen said. “Obviously he can make tremendous plays with his feet, with his arm. Looks like he knows the game really well.”

The pair met again at the pro day, exchanging a quick hug in front of cameras before Williams prepared to throw. Williams told reporters afterward it was great to see Allen, adding, “To possibly be able to have him as a wide receiver coming off his best year, all the knowledge you can gain from somebody like that, it’s great.”

Eberflus said it fits that Allen was there to support his potential future quarterback.

“He moves on quick, so as soon as the trade happened — boom — he was there ready to go,” Eberflus said. “He brought his whole family when he signed, and it was really cool to see those guys and how supportive they are. He’s always on to the next play.”