With the Chicago Bears heading into the offseason after finishing off a disappointing 2015 campaign, there are plenty of questions that the team will need to answer before they hit the field in 2016.
Today, we are discussing a question that is undoubtedly on the minds of many Bears fans: what will the team do with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery?
The Bears decided not to give Jeffery a long-term extension before the 2015 season, and his inability to stay on the field certainly made it look like that was the right course of action. Jeffery was a constant fixture on the injury report as he dealt with a slew of leg injuries, and he only appeared in nine games during the year.
Even though he missed nearly half the season, he was still productive for Chicago, hauling in 54 receptions for 807 yards and four touchdowns, and he remains one of the better prospects that the team has developed during his tenure with the Bears.
Now, Jeffery is getting set to hit free agency, but it seems as though it’s unlikely that he’ll hit the open market.
The Bears have three options with Jeffery. The first option is to let him go for nothing, and that simply does not seem feasible. The team is already coming off of a campaign that they were hammered with injuries at wide receiver, and with questions remaining about Kevin White’s health and about the future of Martellus Bennett with the organization, there’s no reason to just let Jeffery go.
The second option is to apply the franchise tag to the receiver, and let him play for a year to determine what to do with him in the future. This option is an attractive one, because the Bears have enough salary cap space to pay Jeffery a good chunk of guaranteed money, and it also acts as an incentive for him to stay on the field and stay away from some of the avoidable ailments that plagued him this season.
The third option is to sign Jeffery to a long-term extension. This is also a plausible idea for the receiver, as he is by far Chicago’s best pass-catcher, but the question will come up as to what Jeffery and his agent want. Are they going to look for a long-term deal like Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones got, or will they go with a slightly lower value?
That determination will certainly influence G.M. Ryan Pace’s decision on the matter.
The Bears will more than likely apply the franchise tag to Jeffery regardless of whether or not the team wishes to sign him to a long-term deal at this point. At minimum that will keep Jeffery in Chicago for the 2016 season, unless he decides to hold out. That seems unlikely at this point, but in the NFL, it’s never a certainty that a player will accept the franchise tag offer.
Applying the tag is likely the most logical move, and the Bears could take a lesson from the way they ended up dealing with Jay Cutler. They could have applied the franchise tag to him, but instead they signed him to a cumbersome deal, frontloaded with a metric ton of guaranteed money, and it prevented them from making other moves to strengthen the roster.
A one-year “prove it” deal under the franchise tag likely makes the most sense, but a long-term extension can’t be ruled out either, depending on what the receiver’s contract demands are.