INDIANAPOLIS – About this time last year, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was evincing optimism about progress toward a long-term deal with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. That eventually faded to black in the form of a franchise tag that secured Jeffery for the 2016 season at a cost of $14.6 million.
This year, no optimism, at least not yet. The Bears have not ruled out having Jeffery for a sixth NFL season, but...
...where last offseason was spent deciding upon the best scenario for retaining Jeffery, this offseason is involving scenarios in which Jeffery is not back.
"Our approach – starting with [player personnel director] Josh Lucas, [pro scouting director] Champ Kelly, our pro scouts – they've done a great job, and our free-agent board is stacked," Pace said on Wednesday at the outset of the NFL Scouting Combine. "There's options in free agency and in the draft, and we have to see how it'll play out. We'll know a lot more in the coming week; a little over a week from now I'll be able to answer questions a little more directly.
"We have plans in place for every one of these scenarios. I feel extremely prepared for this free-agency process that we're about to enter and it gives me confidence with all these different scenarios."
The Bears opted against a second franchise tag, one that would have committed the Bears to $17.5 million for a receiver who missed 11 full games over the past two seasons and portions of others with injuries in 2015. After a season that saw Jeffery total 52 catches and two touchdowns in 12 games, missing four with a suspension for a violation of the NFL's substance policies.
Jeffery was not worth what he thought he was last season, based on production vs. cost. While they were unwilling to let the open market factor into Jeffery's value last year, the Bears were not prepared to use the tag again, a move that would have effectively cost the Bears $32 million over two years and still had him head for free agency after 2017 with nothing to show for it.
"It was thought-out thoroughly, obviously," Pace said. "I think sometimes when you can't come to a common ground with a player and an agent, sometimes it's necessary to kind of test the market to determine that player's value, and that's really where we're at.
"He's a good player and we'll see how it plays out. But I think there are certain instances where testing the market is a necessary part of the process...We're constantly having dialogue with him and that'll continue like it has pretty much always."