By Chris Emma–
(CBS) You can’t fault Alshon Jeffery and his party for holding a strong self-belief.
Negotiations with the Bears have been ongoing for some time ahead of Jeffery officially hitting the open market Thursday at 3 p.m. CT. General manager Ryan Pace has maintained contact with Jeffery’s lead representative, Tory Dandy of CAA Sports, but without an agreement to this point.
Jeffery’s side believes he’s worth the money a top receiver warrants. The Bears feel there’s more to be desired from Jeffery, whose evaluations are still “incomplete,” as coach John Fox previously termed it. Thus, Pace and his brass declined the franchise tag option on Jeffery and allowed him to hit the open market.
After two days of legal tampering, it seems as if Pace played his cards just right.
Indications around the league suggest that teams aren’t willing to gamble on Jeffery, who had 52 catches for 821 yards and two touchdowns in a 2016 season shortened by a four-game performance-enhancing drug suspension. Jeffery played 12 games and maintained health — that after missing seven games in 2015 with four different soft-tissue injuries — but failed to impact like a top receiver.
In the Bears’ mind, the best route was for Jeffery to test free agency, Pace said last week at the NFL Combine. What he wouldn’t say was that the market value may fall short of Jeffery’s expectation.
Jeffery didn’t get the more than $17 million allotted from the franchise tag, and he may not get the $14 million annual he reportedly so desired. Wednesday saw Kenny Stills, the second-best receiver on the open market, agree to re-sign with the Dolphins on a four-year, $32-million deal, of which $20 million was guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The 24-year-old Stills is coming off a season in which he posted 42 receptions on 81 targets but found the end zone nine times in 16 games. Jeffery is justifiably considered the better receiver, but the Stills deal surely didn’t set the base line where Jeffery’s camp would have hoped.
Then there’s Jeffery’s old teammate, Brandon Marshall, who hauled in a two-year, $12-million deal with the Giants on Wednesday. While Marshall turns 33 later this month, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. His $6 million per year doesn’t bode well for Jeffery, either.
Of course, Pierre Garçon may haul in $16 million in his first season with the 49ers, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, so that could help the receiver market and Jeffery’s value.
Jeffery’s party will have to make a convincing case that he’s worthy of being paid like a top receiver. Steelers star Antonio Brown had a compelling argument to make the $17 million a season when he inked a four-year extension recently. Jeffery stumbled in his two contract seasons.
Last week, Jeffery spoke openly with ESPN’s Josina Anderson and seemed to hint that he could be moving on.
“I don’t have any hard feeling towards the Bears; it’s all love,” Jeffery told Anderson. “Whatever the next chapter is, I’m ready for it. I’m looking at the teams that obviously need a wide receiver, but also put me in the best situation to win a championship right now.
The Eagles, Titans and 49ers were considered potential suitors for Jeffery in addition to the Bears, according to the report. On Wednesday, the Niners agreed to terms with Garçon, effectively removing them from consideration.
Pace spoke of contingency plans should Jeffery move on, and the Bears have followed suit, showing interest in Cordarrelle Patterson and Andre Holmes, according to a source. With Mike Glennon likely signing with the Bears on Thursday, Pace must supply his new quarterback with targets. Lining up Jeffery out wide would make Glennon better.
In the meantime, Pace willingly allowed Jeffery to explore his market value after their negotiations weren’t leading to an agreement. This was a necessary step, Pace said with confidence. Plenty will soon play out, and a bidding war is always possible.
Jeffery’s party was right to be confident in exploring his market value, but that comes with risk. The reward may not be as great as they had hoped.