You can probably add wide receiver to the long list of needs, now that the Chicago Bears have reportedly decided not to put the Franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery.
If he and the Bears can not come to an agreement, he will leave the team with 304 catches, 26 touchdowns, and 4,529 receiving yards.
To put those numbers in context, Jeffery ranks third on the all-time franchise list behind Johnny Morris (who played from 1958-67) and Harlon Hill (1954-61) in receiving yards, seventh in catches, and ninth in touchdown receptions.
To be certain, Jeffery still might get that big-time contract – back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving years (2013 and 2014) will not be easily forgotten – but it just may come from another club. The Bears, then, might need to find someone new.
The Bears do not have much of a history when it comes to productive wide receivers. In fact, the top two players in receptions are running backs (Walter Payton, Matt Forte) and the all-time leader in touchdown catches (Ken Kavanaugh, 50) hasn’t played a down of football since 1950.
Jeffery’s inclusion among the Bears all-time great pass catchers says as much about his production in a brief time span as it does about the franchise’s ability to adapt to modern football and find/develop receivers through the draft.
But with Jeffery and the Bears apparently nowhere near an agreement, the team will need to dip its toes into the free agent waters to fill out the roster …
- Naturally, Pro Football Focus has Jeffery as the top receiver on the free agent market. John Kosko puts Jeffery at the top of the list despite the fact that Jeffery recorded a career-high drop rate and his lowest catch-rate since his rookie season. That’s because when healthy (again, the major concern with regards to Jeffery has been his availability), Jeffery has produced at an elite level. His 77.6 grade in 2016 ranked 33rd among receivers, but it was only a year ago when he posted a 91.9 grade — which put him in PFF’s “elite” category, while playing only nine games. This is the kind of upside the Bears are missing out on by not retaining Jeffery via the Franchise tag.
- As for the rest of the top five, Jeffery is followed by Cleveland’s Terrelle Pryor, Washington’s DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, as well as Kenny Britt of the Los Angeles Rams. The Bears could (and arguably, should) have various levels of interest in each of these players because of their respective skill sets. And considering the entire list, you’ll find young players with upside (Pryor), players who could use a change of scenery (Kendall Wright, Titans), bounce-back candidates (Kamar Aiken, Ravens), and players looking to fill their untapped potential (Britt; Terrance Williams, Cowboys).
- As a proven vet, Garcon might be the most intriguing of the bunch because he is the kind of player who could be invaluable to a young, developing quarterback because of his route-running ability, steady hands, and professionalism. He’s older and would likely command a significant pay increase, but it’s one the Bears could afford with their abundant salary cap space. The Bears have been tied to Garcon on previous trips around the rumor mill, and were expected to go after him.
- For what it’s worth, Cleveland.com reports that the Browns still have no plans to tag Pryor, even after a 1,000-yard season in which he caught passes from Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, Kevin Hogan, and Charlie Whitehurst. Still, Cleveland would like to sign Pryor to a long-term deal before he hits free agency on March 9. Pryor worked well with Cody Kessler, who posted a 102.3 rating when throwing to Pryor in 2016 with a 4-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. “Strong discussions” will take place soon, so we’ll see how his market develops in due time.
- If history is an indication of interest, Bears could re-visit the idea of acquiring Pryor. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported that Pryor visited the Bears before re-signing with the Browns in December 2015.
- According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins are trailing in efforts to keep receiver Kenny Stills, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2013 while Bears GM Ryan Pace was on staff as the team’s director of player personnel. Stills’ second season in Miami produced nine touchdown receptions in a 42-catch, 726-yard season. Stills is seeking a contract worth nearly $12 million annually, and that might not fit into the Dolphins’ financial plans. The Eagles have been a rumored destination for Stills, though the market is a little more crowded with the addition of Jeffery.
- Mark Eckel of NJ.com takes his own look at the top free agent receivers. Some fresh names not included on PFF’s list include Robert Woods (Bills), Brian Quick (Rams), and Victor Cruz (Giants). Cruz’s release was announced earlier in the offseason, but he doesn’t project to provide more than a third receiver at this stage. The Rams whiffed when they selected Quick with the first pick in the second round (33rd overall) back in 2012, especially considering Jeffery went 45th to the Bears in the same class. Over the course of 67 games in five years split in St. Louis and Los Angeles, Quick has a grand total of 1,499 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 105 catches.
- Robert Woods has some post-hype sleeper elements in his game. He was a second-round pick (41st overall) in the 2013 draft, and has averaged 97 targets per 16 games in his career and caught 67.1 percent of his targets thrown to him in 2016. Woods (who will play in his age 25 season in 2017) hasn’t had a consistent quarterback situation while in Buffalo, and could still prove to be productive if given additional touches in the right system. For what it’s worth, Tyrod Taylor (who could be in play for the Bears, depending on what happens with his contract situation in Buffalo) had an 85.6 quarterback rating throwing to Woods the last two seasons.
In any case, it is evident new receivers coach Zach Azzanni will have his work cut out for him at his new job.