By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) He traveled back to Chicago in the middle of the Bears’ optional practice periods, but Alshon Jeffery was here to throw and sing, not play football.
He tossed out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, led the seventh-inning stretch festivities and even took an all-smiles picture with John Fox in the press box, but those were the gritted teeth of a coach still extremely unhappy with what he perceives as his franchise receiver’s lack of commitment to his team.
Fox is privately seething over what he feels is Jeffery’s lack of dedication to being the best he can be for the Bears, sources tell 670 The Score. There are others in the organization who share this view, but the primary conflict is one between a largely unhappy player and an old-school taskmaster of a coach, and it’s an increasingly untenable fit.
Jeffery signed his tender offer and is expected to participate in the mandatory practices that begin Tuesday. He and the team can negotiate a multi-year contract up until July 15, but the chances of that appear slimmer than ever, with each side having reasons to sit tight.
The Bears want reassurance that Jeffery can avoid the muscle strains and pulls that have sidelined him too frequently and lessened his value, and they were hoping to be more involved in managing and monitoring his conditioning and nutrition in this offseason. It’s a big reason for Fox’s bitterness right now, the fact that the organization just has no idea how he’s staying in shape and working out as long as he has remained away from team facilities. The Bears had initial indications from Jeffery that he’d be amenable to some directions and suggestions from trainers, but he has kept to himself in Miami and such communication hasn’t occurred.
This is another function of Fox’s personality, as many coaches of his generation have little tolerance for injuries that don’t appear obvious enough to merit downtime. Unless a player shows up at Halas Hall with a meat cleaver sticking out of his head, a missing limb or an alligator’s jaws clamped on his foot, Fox is the type to be dubious. At a post-draft press conference last month, Fox spoke clearly about one of his core philosophies.
“So much of this game is dependability and if they’re in the training room or not at practice,” he said. “We have a sign in our locker room: ‘Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail.’ Well if you’re not out there, it’s hard to prepare real well. That dependability and that kind of playing through ‘owies,’ I call them, I think is critical.”
Jeffery has never been comfortable playing or living in Chicago, not adjusting well socially and bothered by unfamiliar cold weather. That the Bears know this makes for all kinds of ambiguity when it comes to his injuries and absences, even as he remains spectacularly productive when healthy.
Fox demands complete and total buy-in at all times, and he believes anything short of that constitutes distraction, whether that’s actually true or not. That’s why tight end Martellus Bennett was discarded, because Fox felt he’d rather leave the team with a hole at a critical position than put up with a talented player whose mercurial personality and outside interests bothered him.
Brandon Marshall had to go, and Matt Forte’s departure was similarly understood. Then Bennett, and after this year perhaps Jeffery joins them as ex-Bears of the John Fox era. Fox is betting on himself and the draft picks of general manager Ryan Pace to validate a hard-core approach that leaves no room for anything other than what they feel is heartfelt allegiance to his leadership.
Jeffery will have this year to prove his worth here, but unless he can renew the fading trust of a skeptical coach who’s set in his ways, he’s a good bet to be elsewhere soon.