By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — The Bears have been hard at work with voluntary workouts at Halas Hall, but there’s one notable absence.
Top receiver Alshon Jeffery is training individually in Florida, rather than joining the Bears at their facility in Lake Forest. General manager Ryan Pace addressed this issue one day before the NFL Draft begins Thursday.
“We’ve been in communication with him,” Pace said of Jeffery. “He’s in Florida now, training down there. In a perfect world, we’d like him here with his teammates and building those relationships. But I also understand that it’s voluntary, and that’s the option he’s taken.”
Pace didn’t say it, but this is a matter that the Bears take seriously. Last season, tight end Martellus Bennett skipped voluntary drills with the Bears, which was taken as a lack of commitment to coach John Fox’s program in the new regime’s first year.
In March, the 26-year-old Jeffery signed his franchise tender, locking in for a one-year deal worth about $14.6 million if a long-term deal can’t be reached. The Bears remain in negotiations with Jeffery on a long-term deal, Pace said, and they face a July 15 deadline.
“We continue to talk with his agency,” Pace said. “It’s still been cordial and productive.”
Last week, the Panthers removed their franchise tender to Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman, which made him immediately a free agent. The Redskins signed Norman to a five-year deal that made him the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history.
The Bears are committed to Jeffery for 2016, with his tag signed and official. Jeffery played in just nine games last season, recording 54 catches and four touchdowns. However, after missing seven games with four different soft-tissue injuries, the Bears are concerned with how Jeffery’s preparing this offseason.
Throughout the process, Jeffery has been in communication with the Bears regarding his structured workout regiment that’s aimed toward preventing soft-tissue injuries.
“I wish he was here,” Pace said. “It’s voluntary. It is what it is.”