INDIANAPOLIS – As of Tuesday, Feb. 16, NFL teams could attach their franchise tag to players they were intent on keeping away from unrestricted free agency. The Bears could have tagged wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, whom they very much want to retain for 2016.
But they didn’t. And now the reason is clearer: The Bears are determined to keep Jeffery long-term.
Bears GM Ryan Pace confirmed Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine that the team is “actively and aggressively negotiating right now. We understand the deadline is [next] Tuesday for the franchise tag. That’s an option. We have until Tuesday to make that decision, but right now that’s kind of ongoing.”
The Bears not dropping the tag on Jeffery immediately, a move that neither player nor team like, was in fact a statement by the team that it wanted to continue talks. The deadline for imposing the tag, which would carry with it a guaranteed $14.5 million for one year, arrives next Tuesday, Mar. 1.
If the two sides cannot reach a deal – and Jeffery was expected to be seeking a deal in the range of the five-year, $70 million contracts done by Dallas with Dez Bryant and by Denver with Demaryius Thomas – “that [tag] option is still on the table.”
Jeffery’s injury-speckled 2015 season, which ended up with his playing just nine games total and not all of those games in their entirety, left some concern for his durability. The Bears in their evaluations and negotiations have looked less at what time Jeffery missed than at the time he has been healthy, and productive.
“The thing about it is the previous two years, he remained healthy,” Pace said. “Last year he had a series of injuries. I think we’ve got a great sports [medicine] team around him with Jen [Gibson] and Nate [Breske] and Jason George.
“I’ve said this before: I think being in Year 2 with a player helps a lot just understanding his body and his body mechanics. I know him and his agent are doing some things, too, to improve on that. When he gets back, we’ll have a plan in place. It’s important.”