Conventional wisdom has tilted toward assuming Alshon Jeffery’s injuries will stop the Bears from risking a long-term contract on the player despite him already ranking eighth in receiving yards and 10th in receptions in franchise history.
But indications now are that the Bears are seriously interested in the possibilities of a long-term deal with the highly productive wide receiver who is squarely in his playing prime. If contract numbers cannot be mutually agreed upon, the Bears still can secure Jeffery for one year with their franchise tag, or at least extend their negotiating window without Jeffery going uncovered into free agency next March.
However, the 2016 franchise tag for wide receivers is expected to approach $14.5 million. That is slightly more than the per-year average for the five-year contracts the Dallas Cowboys signed with wide receiver Dez Bryant and the Denver Broncos did with Demaryius Thomas. For comparison purposes, Bryant totaled 185 catches for 2013-14 vs. Jeffery’s 174, with Jeffery totaling 2,554 yards to Bryant’s 2,553.
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What the Bears are willing to guarantee – Bryant, Thomas and Calvin Johnson agreed to guaranteed money reported in excess of $43 million on their contracts – will be one tipping point in negotiations. The Bears have a history of balanced contracts that include protections for the team alongside incentives for the player.
The other, obvious factor, which wasn't for Bryant, Thomas and Johnson, will be the durability of Jeffery, whom then-GM Phil Emery traded up in the 2012 second round to grab. Jeffery’s injury litany began in training camp with a calf injury and has included two hamstring, a groin and a shoulder injury.
But Jeffery also had played 37 consecutive games, starting 35, before a hamstring strain idled him for the four games beginning with Arizona in week two. And one thought is that one injury cascaded into another as injuries sometime do when a player tries to work through the original problem and consciously or unconsciously puts added strain on another area while compensating for the initial problem.
“Obviously, first and foremost it’s probably very frustrating for him,” said coach John Fox. “Just kept kind of new things popping up. I think when he was out there he was very productive, much like he’s been earlier in his career. That’s how I’d assess it.”
Not to read too much into Fox’s comments, but “productive” and a reference to Jeffery’s track record are conspicuously short of anything evincing deep concern about Jeffery’s longer-term health.
“There’s obviously work to be done this offseason with everybody, not just Alshon,” Fox added, “We’ll kind of focus on Detroit right now and we’ll have plenty of time to worry about the offseason.”