By Chris Emma–
(CBS) The Bears don’t become a better football team without receiver Alshon Jeffery, but there are plenty of realities in play as they move forward with a decision on his future.
At 3 p.m. CT on Wednesday, the NFL’s two-week window to apply the franchise tag officially opens. The Bears could pay the projected $17 million to tender the tag once again to Jeffery, though that doesn’t seem likely.
Where do the Bears go with Jeffery? Likely straight to the negotiating table.
“He’s an extremely talented player that has high expectations for himself,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said in early January.
“I think Alshon expects more. I think he’s a good player. And that’s a big decision for us.”
Last offseason, the Bears and Jeffery’s camp engaged in negotiations that were brief. Jeffery and his group wanted the kind of money an elite receiver is owed, while the Bears weren’t willing to gamble on a player whose availability was then in question. They tendered the tag and asked Jeffery to prove himself in 2016.
Jeffery was healthy and maintained his body properly but missed four games due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension. He had 52 catches for 821 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games while playing for three quarterbacks.
Consider that a major letdown for Jeffery. He has shown the talents of an elite receiver, making the kind of catches few in football can match, but then there are the concerns to his availability.
Jeffery, who turned 27 on Tuesday, has played just two full seasons in five years. He posted 17 touchdowns in those 32 full games of 2013 and 2014, then missed seven games in 2015 with four injuries to soft-tissue muscles. Then came the different disappointment in 2016.
But Chicago also faces a cruel reality at receiver, a position in which a heavy investment hasn’t been rewarded. Kevin White, the Bears’ first-round pick in 2015, has finished just three NFL games and is mostly a mystery. Eddie Royal may be cut, and so could Marquess Wilson. Instead, it’s Cameron Meredith proving to be the most sure thing at receiver. Jeffery’s value to the Bears could be necessary because of the questions at his position.
Jeffery was previously represented by legendary agent Eugene Parker, who passed away last April after fighting cancer. Tory Dandy had handled the negotiations last offseason and will do the same with a new agency this time in CAA Sports. The belief in Jeffery’s party is that he’s an elite receiver and should be paid as such.
Ultimately, the Bears and Jeffery could again differ in price. These negotiations may not be smooth. They could opt to tag him again, though $17 million is a high price for a rain-check season. The Bears could allocate that money to other priorities. Certainly, upgrading the secondary is a primary concern this offseason.
While Jeffery has stated on several occasions he leaves the negotiating to Dandy, there have been questions to his desire of staying in Chicago. If he were to hit the open market — a fate that seems likely — there will be a long line of suitors. Jeffery could pick from the major offers that would pay him like a superstar. There may be some more desirable destinations in play.
The Eagles and Titans would perhaps be major players in a Jeffery bidding war — the two teams are invested in young quarterbacks who need a top target. Surely, there will be many other interested general managers.
Pace knows he has a big decision ahead. The reality is that his mind is already made. He and the Bears either believe in what Jeffery can be or they don’t. The option to tag is available but not the best avenue. Jeffery can take the Bears’ offer or pass and move on. Somebody else will pay up.
Once again, it comes down to dollars and sense.