As of 3 p.m. on Tuesday the Bears can assure themselves the services of Alshon Jeffery for 2016. More or less.
The option available for the Pro Bowl wide receiver is the franchise tag accorded each NFL team under terms negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement. It would guarantee Jeffery one year at $14.5 million but is a situation that typically neither the player nor the team like. Indeed, players have held out in protest over being tagged.
Teams have until 3 p.m. on Mar. 1 to put either a franchise tag or transition tag in place. The two sides have until mid July to reach agreement on a long-term contract or the tag remains in place.
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Last year the Dallas Cowboys placed their franchise tag on Dez Bryant and the Denver Broncos used theirs on Demaryius Thomas. Both wideouts signed $70 million contracts hours before the July deadline.
Players dislike the tag because, while it pays well for one year, the amount is typically less than the guaranteed money that comes with a longer-term deal. Teams dislike the tag because it loads the entire amount into the season at hand with no flexibility to amortize the lump sum.
The underlying issue with any long-term contracts for Jeffery is his injury riddled 2015 season, missing most of training camp and preseason in addition to seven games during the season. But the Bears have not given indications that they now regard him as injury prone and a health risk, and they have made changes in the staffing and programs involved with player health.
“The previous two season he’d been healthy and highly productive,” said GM Ryan Pace in his season-ending remarks. “He was frustrated by his injuries. We were frustrated by his injuries. We got to get a better grasp of that. Part of the evaluation of a player is his injuries and his availability. We’ll take that into account.”
The tag, when signed by the player, guarantees one year at the average of the top five salaries at that player’s position. If the tag is the “exclusive” option, the one-year salary is based on the current season. Exclusive-rights players cannot negotiate with any other teams.
The more common “non-exclusive” option is based on the average of the top five at the position for the previous five seasons. If the player signs with another team, the tagging team has the option of matching the deal or receiving the signing team’s next two first-round draft choices.
The Bears used non-exclusive franchise tags in 2012 on running back Matt Forte and in 2013 on defensive tackle Henry Melton. The Bears were able to negotiate a long-term deal (four years) with Forte but lost Melton to Dallas in 2014.
They used the exclusive-rights franchise tag in 2007 on Lance Briggs. The perennial Pro Bowl linebacker played that year under the tag, then agreed to a six-year contract in March 2008.