Things had been quiet on the Franchise Tag front prior to Monday’s report that the Bears wouldn’t tag Alshon Jeffery for a second straight season. There were no rumors of contract negotiations from either side, and no leaks with regards to a potential tag situation.
That silence doesn’t seem to bode well for an extension, and, sure enough, it seems as if the writing was on the wall with regard to Jeffery’s future:
Add to this the fact that the sides haven't had any contract discussions of late. He seems ticketed for the market. https://t.co/fMArrHLyAl
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 27, 2017
Now that Franchise Tag watch is over, we can move on with Jeffery’s future – which now looks less likely to involve the Bears – as well as the Bears’ future on the offensive side of the ball …
- By not handing out a second Franchise tag to Jeffery, the Bears have opted to jump into the free agent receiver market. Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune writes this move came as expected, adding that a second tag (at $17.5 million) would have made him the highest paid receiver by more than $2 million. With the shackles of a tag no longer a concern, the open market will decide Jeffery’s tag and whether the Bears will attempt putting together a long-term contract offer for a receiver who had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2013 and 2014, but only 1,628 yards in two seasons since.
- Over at the Chicago Sun-Times, Adam Jahns writes that common ground has been hard to find in negotiations between the Bears and Jeffery. The Bears could still be willing to commit to Jeffery long-term, but seem to have a firm set of parameters set in place. And that is fair considering Jeffery has missed 11 games over the last two seasons while dealing with various injuries and a PED suspension. Jeffery’s camp would like a big-money deal that puts him among the game’s highest paid receivers, citing the 89-catch, 1,428-yard Pro Bowl season in 2013 or the 10-touchdown campaign in 2014, in which Jeffery caught 85 passes for 1,133 yards. Today’s move arguably gives the Bears a bit of leverage in negotiation, in that they are not bound to the guarantee of $17.5 million, but it also opens up the possibility of other suitors being aggressive.
- ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson writes the Bears’ decision to not give Jeffery another Franchise Tag puts the Bears at a competitive disadvantage in the NFC North. With Jeffery out of the picture, Dickerson describes the Bears as “vulnerable” at the wide receiver position. Cameron Meredith led the team with 97 targets, while Jeffery had 94 – despite missing four games due to his suspension. After that, Eddie Royal (43), Josh Bellamy (38), Kevin White (36), and Deonte Thompson (36) were the most targeted wide receivers. Oft-injured tight end Zach Miller (64) was the team’s third most-targeted pass-catching option, while running back Jordan Howard (50) wasn’t all that far behind. Even when considering games missed, the drop-off from Jeffery to the rest of the receivers on the roster is steep, and his departure would leave the Bears with a significant hole to fill in what looks to be a critical year for head coach John Fox – who will try to avoid a third consecutive losing season.
- Further, if Jeffery were to leave the Bears, it would immediately make life difficult for whomever the next quarterback happens to be, unless the team addresses the position in the draft and free agency. Putting a young, developing quarterback in a situation with no proven go-to wide receivers could prove to be a major mistake. Then again, that is exactly what the Bears did when they traded for Jay Cutler and attempted to fix the problem by forcing a square peg into a round hole by placing Devin Hester as the team’s No. 1 receiver.
Best part of #Bears letting Alshon Jeffery walk is they retained an offensive coordinator who's disinclined to run the ball.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) February 27, 2017
- Jordan Howard put together a Pro Bowl season in which he rushed for the second most yards and had a per-carry average that was higher than that of top rookie Ezekiel Elliott, and did so despite not getting the workload a true feature back receives. Not bringing back Jeffery should make offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains more inclined to be committed to running the football. However, Howard averaged only 20 rush attempts per game when Jeffery was sidelined with a PED suspension. And that number is boosted because of the season-high 32 rushes in a win against the 49ers. Subtract that performance and Howard averaged just 16 rushes in the other three games – despite averaging 5.15 yards per carry in those contests. Howard should play a larger role in the offense in 2017, though he should have already been working his way there as a rookie.
- Not being tied to the franchise tag is good news for Jeffery, according to Will Brinson of CBS Sports. Brinson notes that several receivers who have lesser resume’s than Jeffery received premium contracts on the open market, highlighted by the recent signings of Marvin Jones (5 years, $40 million with $20 million guaranteed with the Lions) and Jeremy Maclin (5 years, $55 million, $22.5 million guaranteed from the Chiefs). It’s also worth noting we are only four years removed from Greg Jennings’ five-year, $45 million deal with the Vikings (he only made it two years with Minnesota) and Mike Wallace’s five-year contract worth $60 million with the Dolphins (he only made it two years in Miami and is on his third team since the start of 2014). Jeffery is younger than Jennings when he hit free agency and had similar numbers to Wallace when he hit the open market. He is also hitting free agency at a time where cap room will be at or near an all-time high, so it is likely he’ll find a deal of his liking despite the baggage he will bring with him.
The #Titans immediately come to mind as a perfect landing spot for Alshon Jeffery. Need a No. 1 for Mariota and have deep pockets.
— dan durkin (@djdurkin) February 27, 2017
- So who needs a wide receiver? The market seems to be just right for a major Jeffery payday because there are several teams with cap room and a need at receiver, as well as others who have a need, but will need to be creative to make the cap space work. Prior to today’s news, we have seen many suitors pop up on the rumor mill who could serve as potential landing spots. Expect those rumors to intensify between now and when free agent open season begins on March 9.
- The 49ers are one of the teams that could be looking at an offensive makeover under new head coach Kyle Shanahan and first-year GM John Lynch, which makes San Francisco a potentially unique fit for Jeffery. Rob Lowder at Niners Wire makes the case for a fit in San Francisco, noting that whichever team pays him will be handing out a lot of cash for a player whose true talent level could be the player we saw in 2013 and 2014, the guy who struggled with injuries in 2015 and 2016, or somewhere in between.
- From one coast to another, expect rumors of Jeffery and the Philadelphia Eagles to kick up in the near future. Philly.com’s Zach Berman notes that the Eagles hired Mike Groh – who was the Bears’ receivers coach for Jeffery’s two most productive seasons – to the same job this offseason. Philadelphia is one of those teams that needs to get creative to fit Jeffery within the salary cap, meaning some cuts could be on the way if the team wants to get quarterback Carson Wentz a proven pass-catching target in his second season.
- The times sure are changing over at Halas Hall. Just check out the turnover since the Ryan Pace-John Fox regime arrived:
If #Bears let Jeffery and Cutler go, that would mean they've subtracted Cutler, Jeffery, Forte, Marshall & Bennett since Pace/Fox arrived.
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) February 27, 2017