Now that the window for franchise-tagging players has opened, the major issue of the Chicago Bears’ offseason—aside from what to do with the #3 overall pick in the draft—is officially on the table.
Will the Bears re-sign unrestricted free agent WR Alshon Jeffery? And if they decide to do so, how will they do it?
Starting yesterday, the Bears have a two-week period of time in which they could apply for the franchise tag and place it on Jeffery for the second season in a row. As a reminder, the tag would be a one-year contract that pays a player no less than the average of the top-5 paid players at their position, fully guaranteed.
Last year, Jeffery made $14.6 million under the franchise tag, and he played in 12 games, catching 52 passes for 821 yards and 2 TDs after missing four games due to drug suspension. The lack of touchdowns, specifically, is a troublesome statistic, though that was more related to the revolving door at quarterback—Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, then Matt Barkley—than anything he did (other than drugs).
Should the team elect to tag Jeffery this year, that number jumps to $17.5 million, or roughly 20% higher than the year before. So, would it be worth it to pay that total, bringing Jeffery’s earnings for these two seasons up to just north of $32 million, on the chance that he struggles again with availability and then leaves in free agency the following year?
If the Chicago Bears choose to tag Alshon Jeffery again he will be given $17.5 million and be the top paid WR in the NFL for 2017. ?
— ✶ SM ✶ Chris (@SM_CBur) February 16, 2017
That’s a tough sell, and 670 The Score writer Chris Emma just wrote an article on why that might not be the best option for the team, if you’re interested.
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) February 16, 2017
Of course, GM Ryan Pace already knows all this, which is why he, probably at this exact moment, is still trying to negotiate a long-term contract with Jeffery and his agent.
The trick here is that Jeffery very likely wants to receive approximately $16-17 million on average over the next five years, with somewhere north of $30 million guaranteed. And while Jeffery has proven that he’s a difference-maker when he can stay on the field/when his quarterback can get him the football, that contract is a leap of faith for a guy who has not proven he can always be available.
At the same time, what’s the alternative?
The Bears still don’t really know what they have in Kevin White, who has only played in four NFL games and was cut down by another broken bone in his leg just as he was starting to show flashes of his ability.
After that, they have last year’s breakout star, Cameron Meredith, who, though he will likely continue to improve, is probably not best suited to being a #1, or maybe even #2, wide receiver. I really like the kid, but I don’t think I want to see him working against the Xavier Rhodes’ of the world on a consistent basis yet.
Then, there are the other receivers on the roster: Deonte Thompson, who had a nice finish to last season when given snaps at WR; Daniel Braverman, who we know next to nothing about; and Josh Bellamy (cringe). I’m not counting Eddie Royal in this because he’s going to get cut soon.
And if you want to branch out to other pass-catchers, TE Zach Miller is another “good when he’s on the field but is always hurt”-type of player, backup TEs Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker are still unproven, MyCole Pruitt hasn’t played a down for the team yet, Logan Paulsen is just bad, and none of your running backs have shown to be high volume pass-catchers.
So…if Alshon Jeffery isn’t here next year, who’s going to be threat at wide receiver for this Bears team?
And don’t tell me Pierre Garcon or Victor Cruz. Just don’t.
Whether or not the Bears have Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Connor Shaw, or “insert rookie draft pick’s name here” starting at quarterback next year, Jeffery basically must return for the Bears to truly make the leap to being a good NFL offense next season. When asked about helping out whoever plays QB next year, Pace had this to say, via Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times.
“If you are talking about adding a quarterback, you want to make sure your roster is equipped to handle that quarterback, [especially] when you come into a situation where there are a lot of holes and there is a lot of heavy lifting that needs to take place and you’re trying to fill needs all over the roster.”
In other words, in addition to making sure that he can stay upright, don’t put your quarterback on a team with no one to throw to.
Yes, I absolutely love Jordan Howard and think he should get 25 carries a game, but at some point, you need to do more than dink and dunk with running backs, tight ends, and mediocre wide receivers if you want to be a legitimate football team without Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at quarterback in today’s NFL.
The Bears have the cap space to do a deal with Jeffery and still sign at least one more significant free agent, so that’s not the issue. It all comes down to whether or not the Bears are willing to invest in Jeffery’s production when he’s actually on the field.
Is it a risk? Sure. A pretty substantial one, likely. But the reward for the team and its prospects of winning next year and in the future, while Jeffery is still in his prime at least, outweighs that risk in my mind.
My other way of thinking about this is to think of the alternative: what does the Bears offense look like without him?
That thought is undoubtedly in the back of Ryan Pace’s head. Is it enough to get Ryan Pace to pony up the money to keep Jeffery in town now before it’s too late? I hope so. Because if franchise tag #2 comes down sometime in the next two weeks, then we’ve likely seen the last of #17 after this year.
So let’s see if we can get this out of the way without the hassle. Try not to overdo it, but don’t skim out on him. Pay Alshon. If Pace doesn’t, someone else—even with all his caveats—will.