As the Chicago Bears prepare to dive into free agency next week with millions to spend, receiver Alshon Jeffery is one step closer to a payday of his own on the open market. The team, as expected, has decided not to use the franchise tag on him.
The Bears in 2016 protected their rights to Jeffery by using the tag. Doing so again would have required a guaranteed one-year contract worth $17.5 million, which would have made Jeffery the NFL’s highest paid receiver in 2017 by more than $2 million.
Throughout Ryan Pace’s first two years as general manager, he has remained steadfast in assigning a value to individual players and adhering to that during negotiations. That applies this year to Jeffery, whose price tag the Bears will let the market dictate.
Although Jeffery, 27, is well-positioned to sign a big contract as the top free-agent receiver, he did not break out in either of his past two seasons, both of which were contract years.
Jeffery totaled 106 catches, 1,628 yards and six touchdowns during that span. He also missed seven games in 2015 due to various leg muscle injuries and four games in 2016 for a performance-enhancing drugs suspension.
Still, Jeffery’s production earlier in his career and his proven ability to make contested catches made him one of the most formidable weapons on a team that tied for 28th in the NFL in scoring last season.
And with former first-round pick Kevin White coming off a second straight lost season to a broken left leg, the possibility of Jeffery’s departure leaves questions at receiver for a last-place team that is also trying to find a long-term quarterback solution and force more turnovers on defense. The Bears at least were pleased by former undrafted receiver Cameron Meredith’s development last season in his second year.
The Bears have exclusive negotiating rights with Jeffery until March 7, but it remains likely Jeffery will explore his earning power on the open market. Free agency opens at 3 p.m. March 9.
The NFL Network first reported that the Bears had finalized their decision not to tag Jeffery.
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