Offseason speculation on the negotiations between the Bears and Alshon Jeffery hasn’t been very positive recently. The gist of the situation has its roots in Jeffery’s penchant for accumulating soft tissue injuries. Even though Jeffery started 16 games in 2013 and 2014, the situation was bad enough to where head coach John Fox commented that Jeffery needed to improve on his tendency to be dinged up with this kind of thing shortly after being hired last offseason in 2015. Then things went downhill during the season as Jeffery missed 7 games, finally going on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Since last year was the new Bears regime’s first and only year, they’ve never actually seem Jeffery play healthy live and in color and that alone is an issue.
The problem is that the Bears believe that these injuries are preventable. So after last season they outlined an offseason training plan for Jeffery. And, of course, they’ve been tracking his progress all offseason as he regularly checks in with them and… oh, crap. That didn’t happen. Jeffery stupidly decided to skip voluntary offseason workouts despite the fact that he signed his franchise tag offer which means that the Bears are paying him 14 and a half million dollars to not be with the team, showing the kind of dedication that I’m sure always sits well with an organization that is negotiating for the right to pay you 10s of millions of dollars in more guaranteed money over the next 3-5 years.
So the Bears haven’t been unable to monitor Jeffery’s progress and even though Fox said Jeffery looked like he was in good shape at the mandatory minicamp last month, no one really knows what that means. Bottom line, there’s a nagging feeling that the Bears might not think that Jeffery works hard enough to stay in shape and there’s speculation that they’d like to see him perform for one healthy season before shelling out big cash to him long-term.
Having said that I’m more optimistic about this situation than most of the reports indicate.
For one thing, some of the articles contain the statement that the Bears are only offering Jeffery “mid-level receiver money”, something that no one around here believes. You don’t franchise a receiver that you think is a mid-level player. I’d say Jeffery’s agent is the source of these reports and that what we are seeing is the result of his attempt to negotiate through the media.
I particularly take issue with columns that are suggesting that having Jeffery play under the tag for a season is the best thing for both sides. That’s hogwash. Jeffery risks serious injury playing in yet another contract year and he’d be a fool not to take a reasonable long-term offer.
On the other side, with the salary cap now rising at an alarming rate, the Bears can surely see that salaries are jumping up like the dinner bell rang and that waiting another year to sign Jeffery long-term could cost them a great of money.
If you ignore all of the speculation and agent-generated babble and just look at the concrete facts of the matter, they provide too much motivation for both sides to reach a deal and I think the odds are much better that something gets done than most people think. I don’t know that I’d characterize them as great. But certainly not hopeless.