The Chicago Bears have a number of options when it comes to deciding what to do with free agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Besides addressing the quarterback dilemma, perhaps the biggest move Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has to do this offseason is deciding wide receiver Alshon Jeffery’s fate. Jeffery, a free agent, played under the franchise tag in 2016. As a result, his season salary was $14.59 million, though he had to pay some of that back after he was suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs.
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In all, Jeffery played in 12 games last season, catching 52 passes for 821 yards and two touchdowns. He arguably had his two best games in Week 1 and 2 with Jay Cutler under center, combining for nine catches and 201 yards against the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles. His lack of scoring was frustrating, as it took until Week 8 for him to finally find the end zone. Overall, his season was up and down. There was the great start to the season, then the PED suspension, and it concluded with a one-catch game in Week 17.
The Bears started three quarterbacks in 2016, and this is partially to blame for Jeffery’s inconsistent year. He eclipsed 85 yards in a game five times, yet at the same time, was held to under 65 yards in five games as well (including outputs of 10, 33, 46, and 47 yards). His 68.4 yards per game average hardly screams “elite” wide receiver numbers, but Jeffery and his agent will be surely looking to break the bank this offseason.
Luckily for the Bears, they are in a position of leverage. For one, if they want to work out a long-term deal, they can use Jeffery’s inconsistencies against him. Ryan Pace can point to the 11 games Jeffery has missed in the past two seasons, the lack of scoring (six touchdowns combined in past two seasons) in his game, and the PED suspension as the biggest reasons why his contract should be knocked-down a few pegs. Jeffery’s side figures to counter, but Pace should hold firm. He’s got the ultimate power in the franchise tag.
Placing the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery is probably the best thing for the Bears to do. If this happens, Jeffery will make around $17.5 million in 2017, all guaranteed. This whole total will count towards the salary cap, but the Bears have over $50 million of cap space available. It’s a steep price to pay, but so is handing Jeffery a long-term deal with $40 or $45 million guaranteed. Tying that much money to any player is a risk, but with Jeffery, it’s even riskier.
Jeffery’s passion for the game has been a question mark for several seasons. His best years were when he was playing second-fiddle to Brandon Marshall. As the Bears No. 1 receiver, his production has slipped. I don’t think anybody’s sold on the fact that he can be a bona fide elite receiver yet and impact the game like Julio Jones or Odell Beckham can.
However, with this being said, I don’t think you can let a 26-year-old receiver walk away in his prime for nothing. Franchising Jeffery gives the Bears front office another year to evaluate him and decide if he’s worthy of a big time deal. If Jeffery refuses to play under the franchise tag, the Bears can always trade him.
In all, Jeffery is still a young player entering his prime. His track record hasn’t been the greatest, but he still has a pretty high ceiling and is the best receiver the Bears have on the roster. If he walks away in free agency, the Bears get no compensation. The Bears lack talent, and they are a better team with Jeffery than without him. The best course of action for Chicago is to slap the franchise tag on him and then wait to see what happens next season.