The inability of the Chicago Bears and Alshon Jeffery to finalize a long-term agreement before Friday’s deadline increases the likelihood that Jeffery will leave via free agency after the season.
The disconnect between the two sides is obvious.
Jeffery, 26, wants to be compensated as a top-five receiver, which is understandable when Chicago committed to paying him $14.599 million guaranteed for one year under the franchise tag. So, of course, Jeffery is looking for a deal on par with A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and T.Y. Hilton – one that averages $13 million to $15 million per year.
The Bears obviously feel differently.
For one, Jeffery has a history of injuries. The former Pro Bowl wideout missed seven games last season due to multiple soft tissue ailments that originated in training camp. Can Jeffery stay healthy? He did play in all 16 games in 2013 and 2014, but last year clearly left a bad taste in the team’s mouth. Plus, Jeffery decided to skip the voluntary portion of Chicago’s offseason program to train in South Florida, further ramping up the pressure on him to avoid injuries in the fall.
The bigger holdup, however, is how the Bears seemingly view Jeffery. While Bears players and coaches publicly praise Jeffery at every turn, it’s unclear whether the organization considers him a true No. 1 receiver. Chicago’s approach in negotiations suggests they view Jeffery more as a “1A” or elite No. 2 wideout. The Bears also have depth at the position in the form of former first-round pick Kevin White, whom Chicago expects to carve out a large role on offense.
Perhaps the Bears think Jeffery is expendable.
The good news for Jeffery is that there are 31 other teams in the NFL.
Entering the prime of his career, Jeffery tied a Bears franchise record in 2015 with three straight 100-yard receiving games against Detroit, Minnesota and San Diego.
Jeffery currently has a dozen 100-yard receiving games in his four seasons with the Bears, tied for fifth-most in franchise history. He set career highs with 89 catches for 1,421 yards in 2013. Jeffery also hauled in 10 touchdowns in 2014.
Jeffery is talented enough to finish the year with 80 catches for 1,300 or 1,400 receiving yards — barring another health setback — which could lead to a huge payday if the Bears decline to franchise-tag him again.
At that point, Chicago may be out of luck.