Not long after Johnny Knox was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field in 2011, then-coach Lovie Smith watched a replay of the hit that injured his young receiver.
“If you look at it,” Smith said, “it was a brutal hit that he took.”
On Tuesday, Knox’s tenure with the Bears came to a tough ending.
The Bears released Knox, 26, almost 14 months after he broke a vertebra and required back surgery because of a violent collision with Seattle Seahawks defensive end Anthony Hargrove on Dec. 18, 2011, at Soldier Field. Knox never returned to the field after the play, although he has said he is determined to make a comeback.
By releasing Knox, the Bears allowed him to pursue an opportunity with another team while creating an opening for to general manager Phil Emery to draft or sign a receiver.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery provide the Bears with big targets on the outside, while Earl Bennett has proved to be an effective third-down target when he is healthy. Devin Hester and Eric Weems also remain under contract, although Hester’s future is murky after a subpar season and his end-of-year comments that football had stopped being fun.
The Bears’ top priority at receiver will be to add a fast, downfield threat.
Until he was injured, Knox provided the Bears with track-speed ability that could stretch defenses. But Knox spent all of last season on the physically unable to perform list, and his extra-skinny frame after surgery cast doubt on his ability to return to the field.
In 45 games with the Bears, Knox caught 133 passes for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 27.4 yards a kickoff return with one touchdown on special teams, and he earned a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie kick returner in 2009.