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Bears cut rehabbing receiver Johnny Knox after lost season

Bears receiver Johnny Knox is taken off field spinal board after injuring his back first quarter against Seahawks. | AP

Bears receiver Johnny Knox is taken off the field on a spinal board after injuring his back in the first quarter against the Seahawks. | AP

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BEARS RECEIVERS

Joe Anderson, 24, 6-1, 196: Undrafted player earned his way onto the active roster. Intriguing athlete with good hands.

Earl Bennett, 25, 6-0, 206: Flashed his skills late in the season, most notably a 60-yard touchdown in the finale.

Devin Hester, 30, 5-11, 190: His future with the Bears is unclear, as he’s coming off a dismal season as a receiver and returner.

Alshon Jeffery, 22, 6-3, 216: Derailed by injuries as a rookie, but the second-round pick has plenty of upside, and he’ll be working closely this offseason with Brandon Marshall.

Brandon Marshall, 28, 6-4, 230: One of the league’s best receivers, setting numerous Bears records last season.

Eric Weems, 27, 5-9, 195: Hand-picked by GM Phil Emery, Weems only caught two passes and didn’t have any meaningful kickoff returns.

Updated: March 14, 2013 6:42AM



In late December, after spending the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, former No. 1 receiver Johnny Knox welcomed a chance to return to the Bears and complement new No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall.

But on Tuesday morning, the Bears parted ways with Knox — a 2009 fifth-round pick who was popular with Bears fans and employees alike — after he failed a physical.

Knox’s promising career took a devastating blow on Dec. 18, 2011, when Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove bent him backward at an awkward angle at Soldier Field. Knox immediately required spinal fusion surgery to stabilize his vertebra, and he’s been rehabbing ever since.

‘‘He’s going with the mind-set that he’s playing in 2013,’’ Knox’s agent, Marc Lillibridge, told the Sun-Times. ‘‘He’s going to try to give it until July and see where he’s at. But if his body doesn’t allow it, then he’ll adjust.’’

Knox technically was under contract through the 2013 season because he spent all of last season on the PUP list. The Bears elected to give — and take — a fresh start.

‘‘The Bears have been tremendous to him,’’ said Bill Horn, Knox’s close friend and marketing agent. ‘‘He really appreciates everything they’ve done for him.’’

The Bears encouraged him to rehab at team headquarters and attend meetings with the receivers last season, even though there was never a realistic chance he’d contribute.

Although they terminated his contract, the Bears helped him find a facility in the Chicago area to continue his rehab, which will be covered by insurance.

Lillibridge said a physical assessment of Knox scheduled for late March will be telling.

‘‘That’s one [where] the doctors will give him a percentage,’’ Lillibridge said, ‘‘or they may advise him not to play again.’’

As for the Bears, they have six receivers under contract, and releasing Knox assures that they’ll address the position via the draft and/or free agency. In addition, Devin Hester’s future remains unclear as he heads into the final year of his contract.

The most proven complement to Marshall would be Mike Wallace, who scored 32 touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers the last four seasons. But Wallace may command too much money in free agency. In the draft, there are many solid prospects who might be available through a number of rounds to fill the void.

Knox started 27 of 45 games in three seasons, catching 133 passes for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a rookie, he earned a Pro Bowl berth as a kickoff returner.

Lillibridge is confident some team will give Knox a shot, at least to check his physical well-being.

‘‘We’ll wait and see if that’s a realistic goal or not,’’ Lillibridge said. ‘‘You’d hate to have a guy get injured and be done. But it happens to more guys than you ever know about.’’



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