Two weeks ago, we looked at Alshon Jeffery’s impending free agency and discussed the various options available to the Chicago Bears.
In short, if the Bears hoped to retain their often-injured, but clearly talented wide receiver – as many believe they should – they’d either need to slap the franchise tag on him for the second consecutive season (something they might hope to avoid), or extend him to a relatively healthy contract (something they’ve failed at before).
Because of their current lack of high-end talent or depth at the wide receiver position, most pundits seem to agree that extending Jeffery is the way to go for the Bears. But as we’ve already seen, that can often be easier said than done – especially when a player as talented as Jeffery is this close to free agency.
Even still, with as much as $8+ million available in salary cap carryover and as much as about $50 million in space under the cap for 2017 – or more depending on the Jay Cutler decision, as well as some others – the Bears should be able to get something done with Jeffery, even if it’ll cost them … and it will cost them.
At the Chicago Tribune, Brad Biggs uses the Browns re-signing of Jamie Collins to a four-year, $50 million deal (with $26 million guaranteed) as a launching point for a discussion on the Bears’ run at Jeffery. Unfortunately, Biggs can’t see that kind of preemptive deal with Jeffery getting done before he reaches free agency.
Although deals this close to free agency can happen (clearly Collins just agreed to one), teams often have to pay at least as much if not more than the player would actually be able to get in free agency just two months from now. After all, with no games to be played, there isn’t much (like injury) that could prevent a larger deal from getting done during the offseason … so why not just wait?
In addition, the failed extension attempt last offseason doesn’t bode well for the Bears’ chances this spring. Instead, if the Bears are going to find a way, it’ll have to be through a leap of faith, so to speak.
Jeffery is coming off two seasons in which he appeared in just 21 games – partially due to injury and partially due to a four-game PED suspension. If the Bears hope to prevent Jeffery from going elsewhere in free agency, they’ll have to close their eyes tight and offer him the sort of deal based on his 2013-2014 seasons (30 games, 17 touchdowns, 2,554 yards) and the potential remaining in the 26-year-old receiver.
What does that sort of deal look like? Biggs asked around.
According to one AFC executive, Jeffery might be able to command as much as $14 million per season, depending on how seriously his new team takes the PED suspension into consideration. At the same time, an NFC scouting director seems to believe Jeffery’s market is something closer to the $10 million range.
For what it’s worth, Dan Durkin (The Athletic) recently suggested a deal in the $11-$14 million in average annual value range (roughly $30-$40 million guaranteed) that would put him among the top-10, but just outside the top-5 among wide receivers. At least there is some market consistency brewing around his expected cost.
In general, the consensus seems to feel that although Jeffery isn’t quite in the same category as other No. 1 receivers like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, or Antonio Brown, he’ll be able to secure a big deal should he be an unrestricted free agent. But because so many teams are already looking for a playmaking wide receiver, the Bears would join a crowded group of buyers if they lost Jeffery to free agency.
The Bears could place the franchise tag on Jeffery for a second time in two years, but that’s a fairly difficult decision. After all, $17.5 million for Jeffery in 2017 (or 20% more than his $14.6 million in 2016) is quite the commitment, even if it’s just for one year, and even though the Bears have the space to make it work.
Jeffery is one of the Bears’ few playmakers, but even with the available cap space, his youth, and his projected value going forward, paying Jeffery what it will take to keep him is not an easy decision – whether by extension or the franchise tag – especially with an unknown under center for 2017. And if Jeffery is set on exploring free agency, the Bears’ hands might be largely tied.
For more on the decision, check out Biggs’ piece in the Tribune.