By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Standing in the aftermath of one of the worst seasons in Bears franchise history, top receiver Alshon Jeffery had a guarantee that raised eyebrows.
Jeffery couldn’t say for certain whether he would be back with the Bears next season, but he’s surely confident in the team’s prospects beyond this 3-13 campaign.
“I guarantee you we’re going to win the Super Bowl next year,” Jeffery said Sunday after the Bears’ season-ending 38-10 loss to the Vikings.
Such a turnaround from 3-13 to Super Bowl champion has never been accomplished before. Given the Bears’ roster flux, it would be hard to imagine that coming to fruition. But Wednesday at Halas Hall, Bears general manager Ryan Pace, coach John Fox and team chairman George McCaskey stood firmly in their belief that better is on the way.
Among the many questions to be answered this offseason is whether Jeffery will return. Speaking at training camp, Pace stressed that Jeffery’s availability would be key in 2016 after he missed seven games in a contract season of 2015 with four different soft-tissue injuries.
Jeffery was healthy playing this season under the franchise tag, but he missed four games due to a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Jeffery had 52 catches for 821 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games this season.
“He’s an extremely talented player that has high expectations for himself,” Pace said of Jeffery. “I don’t feel like this season he really got into a rhythm that he would have liked to have gotten into. I think that was because of a lot of different quarterback play. And also he missed four games. It’s hard for him to get in a rhythm and showcase what he can do.
“I think Alshon expects more. I think he’s a good player. And that’s a big decision for us.”
The Bears have several avenues to explore with Jeffery, who’s set to enter his sixth NFL season and turn 27 in February. They could offer a long-term deal, let him leave into free agency — where he would likely land a major offer as the top receiver available — or tender the franchise tag again, this time coming at the price of around $17 million on a one-year deal.
Jeffery, who in short time has risen to the ranks of some of the Bears’ top receivers ever in most categories, has said that he wants to be back with the team but that it’s a decision for Pace and his agent, Tory Dandy.
From the Bears’ perspective, the health of Kevin White is an important factor. The team’s first-round pick in 2015, White has played just four games in a Bears uniform. He missed the entire 2015 season due to a stress fracture in his left leg that required surgery, then suffered a broken fibula in early October that again forced surgery on the same leg.
White is confident he can be the same player Pace took with his first ever draft pick. Pace believes it, too.
“No, no doubt at all,” White said of his return. “Just got to get my body right. Once I do that, I’ll do what I’m allowed to do. No doubts. I’m actually excited. A lot of pressure. A lot of doubts that everybody else has, but I’ll work it out.”
There are plenty of other factors in the Bears’ decision on Jeffery, including the likelihood that the team is preparing for a change at the quarterback position. Jeffery’s presence would be important moving forward.
If the Bears were to shock the world and win the Super Bowl next season, it’s hard to imagine them doing so without Jeffery.
As for his bold guarantee, it reached the top of the organization.
“The goal everywhere every year is to win the Super Bowl,” McCaskey said. “I think what Alshon said was great. I think he was trying to put his teammates on notice, that winning the Super Bowl begins in the offseason.”