Bears

Bears, Alshon Jeffery now on the contract clock after franchise tag designation

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Bears, Alshon Jeffery now on the contract clock after franchise tag designation

The Bears have made Alshon Jeffery the fourth player to receive their franchise designation, a move that unofficially places player and team on the contract clock after initial efforts to reach a long-term contract fell short.

The move positions Jeffery for $14.599 million guaranteed for 2016. The two sides now have until July 15 to agree on a multi-year deal, after which time the collective bargaining agreement permits only a one-year deal until after the current season.

The Bears previously used their franchise tag on Lance Briggs (2007), Matt Forte (2012) and Henry Melton (2013). Briggs played the 2007 season under the tag before agreeing to a six-year deal the following offseason. Forte reached agreement with the Bears on a four-year deal before that year’s deadline. Melton did not come to terms on a long-term deal, was injured early in the 2013 season and left for the Dallas Cowboys the next offseason.

Jeffery was the Bears’ second-round pick in the 2012 draft, acquired when then-GM Phil Emery traded up five slots to ensure the Bears acquiring what Emery regarded as the top wide receiver in a draft that included Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, A.J. Jenkins, Bobby Quick and Stephen Hill – all chosen before Jeffery.

[RELATED: NFL Draft could hold QB nuggets for Bears]

Jeffery, who represented the Bears in the 2013 Pro Bowl, missed seven games in 2015 and parts of two others. He finished with 54 receptions for 807 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his nine games. His 89.7 yards per game were eighth in the NFL last season and fourth in Bears single-season history. He also tied a franchise record last season with three-straight 100-yard receiving games and had four such games last year overall.

Jeffery has appeared in 51 games with 44 starts over four seasons, totaling 252 receptions for 3,728 yards (14.8 ypc) and 24 touchdowns. Since 2013, Jeffery ranks ninth in the NFL in receiving yards (3,361) and tied for 14th in receiving touchdowns (21) in 41 games played.

The former South Carolina receiver is one of five players in Bears franchise history with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons, accomplishing the feat in 2013 (1,421 yards) and 2014 (1,133 yards). His 1,421 receiving yards in 2013 are second-most in Bears single-season history and helped him earn his first Pro Bowl selection.

His 12 100-yard receiving games are already tied for 12th most in franchise history. Jeffery also holds the top two single-game marks in franchise annals for receiving yards: 249 at Minnesota (12/1/13) and 218 versus New Orleans (10/6/13).

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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