The last two days represented very important times in Allen Robinson’s football career, not only because of how he decided to make a statement about his ongoing contract negotiations, but also because of how his head coach and general manager handled the situation.
“I think when you have situations like this, it’s only fair that both be able to talk,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday. “So hopefully, you know, I think he definitely feels good and he’s confident that we want him to be here and that he wants to be here. That’s really the ultimate goal in all of this.”
And that’s been the goal all offseason. Which is why it was surprising to see Robinson head to Detroit last weekend for the team’s first regular season game without new money.
So perhaps the response from Robinson following the game shouldn’t have been as surprising at it seemed. He deleted all mentions of the Chicago Bears on his social media accounts and multiple reports indicated that he asked about a trade.
First, the good news: When asked, directly, by NBC Sports Chicago Wednesday if he believes he’ll finish the 2020 season with the Bears, Robinson responded, “Uh, you know, yeah, I would say so.”
Robinson acknowledged it was a tough question but added that he talked to both Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace and “we're in the clear with that.”
So did he asked to be traded?
Robinson chose not to confirm or deny Tuesday’s reports, but it’s important to point out that there’s a difference between formally requesting a trade and simply having the subject come up in negotiations. Sometimes a player’s agent will ask for permission to speak to other teams about a potential trade-and-sign, since any trade would ideally come with a new contract for Robinson.
Regardless, it’s very unlikely this story is headed down the same path as Jalen Ramsey, the talented cornerback who was traded from Jacksonville to the Los Angeles Rams in mid-October last year. Ramsey formally requested a trade after several incidents with the organization. Part of why the Robinson saga is so surprising is because there hasn’t been any angst between the receiver and the Chicago Bears until now.
In times like this, it’s extremely important to have a head coach that is in lockstep with both the general manager and the player, and by all accounts, Nagy squashed any further troubles over the last 24 hours before they got worse.
“He’s a big reason as far as me coming to Chicago, just my belief in his spirit and how he brings it each and every day,” Robinson said Wednesday. “We had a very good and spirited conversation. Coach Nagy’s my guy. I’ve enjoyed playing for him. He’s been nothing but a great coach.”
So it appears the fire is out for now, but the smoke won’t entirely clear until a contract is done. It shouldn’t be too surprising that Robinson is disgruntled because the expectation from both sides all year was that the extension would get done before the regular season began. And we’re talking about a player that tore his ACL in Week 1 the last time he entered a contract year. Security is important.
The delay in the offseason and even the preseason was understandable because contracts are often like dominoes across the league. You sometimes need to get in line at your position. But Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, who at 28-years-old is a pretty good comp for Allen Robinson, 27, earned a four-year, $80.1 million extension on Sept. 5. Then came Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who went shorter on years (2), but more on average-per-year with $54.5 million total over the next two seasons. Then, Saturday, as the Bears left for Detroit, Rams receiver Cooper Kupp got a three-year, $48 million extension ($16 million per year).
But kickoff came and went Sunday without a deal for Robinson.
Not the type of guy to threaten to sit out a game, Robinson went out and caught five passes for 74 yards in the Bears win over the Lions. But Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be slower days in the NFL, so that likely explains the timing of the social media scrub and ensuing trade conversation. You can’t blame Robinson for being upset.
Why a deal didn’t get done last weekend is somewhat unclear, although the logical conclusion is that Robinson’s side isn’t happy with what’s been offered so far.
“Zero concern,” Nagy said when asked if he’s worried Robinson feels undervalued by the organization. “I think, just talking to him, everybody’s able to talk. It’s so much easier when you just cut out the middle stuff and all the emotions of people that people get into, start saying. When you’re just able to talk one-on-one and you listen, that’s the other key part of this, too, he listens, we listen, usually things end up pretty good. So I really don’t have any concern.”
The key here is that the respect between the two sides still exists. Trades happen when the respect is lost. Pretty much everyone involved in the situation anticipated a deal getting done before the season started. It wasn’t. Angst is understandable, but the Bears are still preaching patience.
“I think that our players all realize the history that we have here in regards to taking care of guys. And I think, it was a really, really good talk that Allen and I had,” Nagy said.
It wasn’t the only time Nagy hinted at Pace’s history of locking key players up. But that’s undoubtedly part of Robinson’s frustration. He’s perhaps more deserving than any of the players who have received extensions in recent years. And safety Eddie Jackson got his as soon as the 2019 season ended.
“If you look at the history of the Chicago Bears here, especially recently with players that we have on this team, I think you will see it's pretty friendly. If you really look at that,” Nagy said. “There's a process and there is some patience involved probably for all of us."
You don’t get through something like this without mutual respect. The fact that both Nagy and Robinson addressed the situation so respectfully Wednesday is an indication that compromise could be on the horizon. Perhaps a deal will even get done before the Bears kickoff against the Giants at Soldier Field Sunday.
Back in January, at the Super Bowl in Miami, I had a conversation with Robinson about the possibility of a contract extension, knowing it would be on the agenda for the offseason. Three things stood out:
1) He pays attention to what’s going on around the league. When asked if his obvious Pro Bowl snub motivated him, he said: “Most definitely. I see stuff like that. I jot down stuff like that.”
2) Robinson has a good handle on how these negotiations work. What happened this week was emotional, but also calculated. “I understand the nature of the business and that’s from both sides, both the player and management. I understand it all.”
3) He really does want to be a Bear. “I said when I first signed with the Bears that I wanted to retire a Bear and that has never changed or wavered.”
Of course, that was in January. Maybe it wavered a little this week. But it appears any wounds were smothered with a bandage. Whether or not they completely heal will depend on a contract getting done.