Judging Alshon Jeffery’s worth no simple task for Bears front office

One of the most intriguing storylines regarding the Chicago Bears this offseason has been the ongoing contract stalemate between the Bears organization and star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

All indications are that this dispute won’t end any time soon either.

Though the official deadline for the Bears to sign Jeffery isn’t until Friday, it looks like Jeffery will play out the year on a $14.6 million franchise tender, betting on himself in hopes of a big-time payday. From an organizational standpoint, this is the logical move given that Jeffery has been hampered by various injuries throughout his Bears’ tenure, causing him a miss a total of 13 games over 4 seasons.

Only a healthy year for Jeffery will truly make Bears GM Ryan Pace comfortable enough to write him a check covering multiple years.

But just because the Bears are making the smart play here doesn’t necessarily make it easy to know exactly what Alshon Jeffery is worth/is going to be worth in about six months.

As it stands, Jeffery’s franchise tag has him as the second highest paid receiver (in average $/year) behind only AJ Green. The others in the top five? Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant, all of whom are unarguably in the top tier of wide receivers.

Is Jeffery in their league? I’ll have to say “no” to that, though he’s certainly been outstanding when healthy. But we’ll get to that…what we do know is that while the Bears were fine with slapping the single-season tag on Jeffery, they likely aren’t going to want to pay him $14 million a year on a long-term deal if they can help it. Indeed, early reports are that the Bears were hoping to get Jeffery to agree to a multi-year deal for “a couple million below that.”

When you take into account some of the other receivers that have gotten paid this offseason, you can see why Jeffery thinks betting on himself might be worth the risk.

The two receivers most used as benchmarks for Jeffery’s potential deal are Seattle’s Doug Baldwin and San Diego’s Keenan Allen.

After exploding out of nowhere for a 1,069-yard, 14-touchdown season, Baldwin was rewarded with a 4-year, $46 million contract ($12 million guaranteed). Allen, in turn, signed his own 4-year deal worth $45 million with even more guaranteed money ($20.6 million), thanks to largely consistent numbers during his three seasons.

Interestingly, Allen shares a few more comparisons with Jeffery than Baldwin does, which could influence how his contract situation is viewed.

Both play more outside, #1 receiver-type roles in their offenses—Baldwin’s skills are best suited to the slot, where he excelled last season—have had 1,000 yard seasons, and were on their way to having big years last season before injuries derailed them; Allen had 67 receptions for 725 yards and 4 TDs in just 8 games while Jeffery had 54 catches for 807 yards and 4 TDs in his 9 games played.

The numbers that they’ve put up in their best seasons are also fairly comparable (Allen: 71 rec, 1,046 yds, 8 TDs in 2013; Jeffery: 89 rec, 1,421 yds, 8 TDs in 2013; 85 rec, 1,133 yds, 10 TDs in 2014). The big difference here, of course, is that Jeffery has put up those numbers more than once, whereas both Allen and Baldwin only have one 1,000 yard season each to their names.

Look for that to factor into Jeffery’s contract negotiations. Even with his injury history, less than $20 million guaranteed and about $13 million a year could be considered lowballing based on these comparisons.

On the other side of the statistical coin, while Jeffery’s best years measure up relatively well against seasons had by elite receivers like Green, Thomas, Bryant, and Jones, each of these players have at least three seasons of 1,000 receiving yards and 10+ TDs (except for Jones, who has topped TD 10 once).

Jeffery has only one such season. And all of those guys make more than $14 million a year and make more than $26 in guaranteed money.

That’s what Jeffery is aiming for, and as such, that’s how he has to play this year to solidify his argument. Otherwise, good luck getting the Bears to budge. At that point, someone else will likely be paying Jeffery’s salary next season. And even if he does produce a 1,000 yd/10 TD year, will that be enough to sell the Bears on paying him like a truly elite wide receiver? One would think so, but we’ll see when the negotiations turn up again and other teams get involved.

Obviously, both sides are hoping for a healthy, successful year from Jeffery, as that likely would mean the Bears offense is performing well. That said, both camps are also under significant pressure during this waiting game: Jeffery to prove that he is capable of producing like the best receivers in the league, and the Bears to accurately assess whether or not their talented wideout’s production overshadows his injury risk.

In particular, that’s going to involve looking at not just Jeffery, but also at last year’s first round pick Kevin White. If White proves he’s a star, then maybe letting Jeffery get his money somewhere else won’t hurt as much. If White struggles or is injured again, then it’s back to the drawing board. Just a few more weeks until we start to finally get some answers…

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