A three-year deal that paid Bears WR Allen Robinson $17 million per season was a sensible guess back in June – it would have been a well-earned raise based on his recent performance and would have made him the seventh-highest paid player at the position on a per-year basis at the time – only Tyreek Hill ($18M AAV), Odell Beckham Jr. ($18M), Michael Thomas ($19.25M), Amari Cooper ($20M), and Julio Jones ($22M) are making more.
But not only did the Bears fail to get something important done when the timing was right, the landscape of the NFL (and specifically wide receiver deals) has changed the fabric of where that deal is likely to end up.
Amari Cooper’s deal appears to be the biggest game-changer. The market resetting deal came with $60 million in guarantees and a $20 million average annual salary. Since Cooper signed his contract, DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen have changed the market, as well. Hopkins’ new deal sits at the top of the league, paying him $27.25 million per year, while Allen’s deal checks in with a $20.025 million AAV. As far as guarantees go, Hopkins received $49.4 million in total guarantees and Allen picked up $50 million.
In other words, the $17M AAV deal that looked to be top tier pricing has now been knocked down a peg. It’s not much of a downgrade, because $17 million is still in the top-10. But it’s not in that upper crust after Cooper, Hopkins, and Allen got their multi-year deals in place. Meanwhile, Cooper Kupp’s extension ($15.75M AAV, $33M guaranteed, $47.25M total) sets a new-high for the low end of the extension power rankings. In essence, Ryan Pace left the door open for the market to play him. And it played him like a fiddle, costing the Bears time and money in the process.
So, where does this leave Robinson and the Bears? Well, a deal that checks in north of the 2020 Franchise Tag tender number ($17.865 million) on a per-year basis and includes more than $60 million in guarantees is sensible in my estimation. But that’s just a guess based on numbers, trends, and applicable comparisons mentioned above.
It’s risky to travel down this road, but NFL team spending of late suggests the league is confident that their COVID-19 related short-term losses won’t be long-term problems. Or at a minimum, the recent trend towards extensions shows a reluctance to allow top talent to leave via free agency right now. To put that simply: replacing Robinson with a free agent will likely be a fool’s errand.
Oftentimes, we think of stud players on rookie level contracts as a key to sustained success. However, retaining top-tier talent beyond their first contract is at least as important. And for the Bears, keeping Robinson around is arguably the most important factor in putting the offense in a place to succeed down the line.