Alshon Jeffery is a very good football player. A barstool drunk with Bushmills breath and 20/80 vision could tell you Alshon Jeffery is a very good football player. But NFL personnel people are paid duffels of ducats to decide whether a player is bad or okay, okay or good, good or very good, very good or great. They are paid to decipher where to slot a particular talent within the structure of the NFL’s rigid salary cap.
Is Jeffery a great player? That’s the question currently wallpapering the offices in Lake Forest. The more important question may be…does it matter?
From the one and only Adam L. Jahns of the Sun-Times:
“I think Alshon expects more,” Pace said during the Bears’ season-ending news conference Jan. 4. “I think he’s a good player. And that’s a big decision for us.”
But how good is he really?
It’s actually a complex question, considering that the Bears are rebuilding, that the team will have their third receivers coach in three years and that a new quarterback could be coming to town.
The better question might be: Do Jeffery’s talents transcend change?
He had mixed results last season with three quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Reference, Brian Hoyer’s passer rating of 83.3 when throwing to Jeffery was better than Cutler’s (74.3) and Matt Barkley’s (50.9).
On the other side, the argument can be made that the Bears desperately need Jeffery, especially with uncertainty surrounding Kevin White after his second surgery. (White and Jeffery share the same agent.)
Being pragmatic about this decision, there are three options.
- TAG HIM. With the copious amount of cap space and Jay Cutler most likely coming off the books, Jeffery’s tag hit will be somewhere in the $17-18M range and give the Bears an opportunity to either (a) work out a long-term extensions or (b) use 2017 as a second evaluative year.
- SIGN HIM. The Bears want to lock up Jeffery long-term but they are not going to pay him like he’s one of the five best receivers in the sport. Why? Because he’s not one of the five best receivers in the sport. And, from my reporting, it’s clear the organization is concerned about Jeffery’s work ethic, how that work ethic has influenced his health and what to make of the four-game suspension he served in 2016.
- SAY GOODBYE. An old fashioned adios. Pretty simply stuff. Shake his hand, make sure his car is on-time to O’Hare and tell him that both Pat’s and Geno’s are overrated in Philly. (Let’s be honest, the whole concept of the Philly cheesesteak is wildly overrated. It’s fucking beef and cheese. I’ve had better versions of that combination in probably seven other cities. Stick cheese on a Mr. Beef in Chicago or a Chap’s Pit in Baltimore or…okay, enough.)
The latter two options come with significant risk.
Sign Him and risk the money decreasing his motivation. If his lack of work ethic issues becomes a major issue, the Bears could end up paying a complementary player like a star for the next 2-3 seasons. Say Goodbye and the Bears are forced to start over at the wide receiver position, depending heavily on unproven players like White and Meredith for production in 2017.
Tag Him? What’s the risk?
One year and some cash.
If he fails another drug test and misses ten games, he’s gone at year’s end. If he fails to play 12 or 13 productive games he is gone at year’s end. If he plays like one of the league’s best receivers, he’ll be fittingly compensated by mid-January in Chicago or mid-March elsewhere (with the Bears receiving draft pick compensation when he leaves).
If the Bears were tight against the cap in 2017, my opinion might change. If the Bears were two players away from a championship in 2017 and taking Jeffery’s money off the books would allow them to acquire those players, my opinion might change. But neither of those things is remotely accurate.
Jeffery is only 27 years old. He’s still got 3-4 years of possibly elite-level production left.
Q: Why would the Bears allow another organization to benefit from a single second of that production when they don’t have to?
A: They shouldn’t.
Q: Why create a question mark on a roster already full of them for a few million bucks?
A: They shouldn’t.
Q: Why would an organization hungry for productive drafts toss out the best receiver they’ve selected in several generations?
A: They shouldn’t.
Should the Bears bring Jeffery back in 2017? The answer is simple. Of course.