Bears, Alshon Jeffery on the clock as franchise-tag period opens Tuesday


Bears, Alshon Jeffery on the clock as franchise-tag period opens Tuesday

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.”

[MORE BEARS: Matt Forte situation means looking beyond simple conclusions]

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.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.