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The problem with franchise tagging Alshon Jeffery

The Chicago Bears brass have a lot of personnel things to sift through this offseason and none may be bigger than impending free agent Alshon Jeffery and getting him signed to a long term deal.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Alshon Jeffery has been a bit of enigma for the Chicago Bears through four seasons.

He has proven to be injury prone, missing six games as a rookie and seven games last year due to various injuries. In 2014 he played through a couple of nagging soft tissue injuries as well.

On the other hand, when he has been on the field, he's been brilliant.

In 51 career games he's caught 252 passes for 3,728 yards and 24 touchdowns. Despite not having eye-popping speed, he averages 14.8 yards per catch and in 2015 in the games he played he averaged just under 90 yards per game.

When he's on the field, Jeffery is a big-play game-changing receiver. Anyone who watched the Bears this season would agree that the passing game was working at its best when Alshon was in the game.

In fact, in the nine games in which Jeffery and Cutler played together, Cutler averaged 260 yards per game versus 219 yards per game without Jeffery. His touchdown to interception ratio also dipped with No. 17 on the field: with Jeffery Cutler threw 13 TDs to just five INTs but threw only eight TDs without him and six picks.

Cutler averaged 1.4 TD passes per game with Jeffery and just 1.1 without him.

Jeffery's value is clear when looking at these stats. He's also the best receiver that the Bears have ever drafted.

In just four seasons and 51 games, Jeffery is already eighth on the franchise receiving yard list, 31 fewer games into his career than the next guy on the list. With one single 1,200 yard season, he would vault all the way into second place on the list. He ranked 10th in receptions and a single 90-catch season would take him to fourth. He's 11th in touchdown catches and with just eight more of those he would jump to fifth.

So one year with a state line of 90/1,200/8, which is hardly unreasonable for a WR of Jeffery's caliber he would be top five all-time in the record books. Yes, that's hardly a feat for a franchise as receiver-deprived as it has been QB deprived, but impressive nonetheless.

It seems then that Jeffery would be worth a new deal.

However, his ability isn't in question here, it is two factors that no one knows; 1) Can he stay healthy enough to reach those numbers and 2) what is his worth on a new contract.

The former cannot be decided in the negotiating room, but the powers at Halas Hall will make sure that Jeffery and his agent are well aware of their concerns when they slide an offer across the table.

The easiest, and, unfortunately, most likely scenario will be that Jeffery is applied the franchise tag. The franchise tag, which will give Jeffery an average salary of the five-highest players at his position, will allow Chicago to retain their playmaker without losing him to free agency. In theory, he gets his money (alas, without the long-term piece of mind of an extension gives), the team gets their player (but with a larger cap hit) and both parties are appeased but usually not happy.

The thing is though, once the franchise tag is applied, while the sides work towards a longterm extension before the July deadline, is that it becomes a negotiating tactic for both sides. Players don't like the tag because of the lack of longterm security and teams think this will make them take a lesser deal.

On the other hand though, agents use the franchise tag and it's high one-year guaranteed salary as their starting point for negotiations, which leads to the problem with Jeffery.

See, according to Joel Corry of CBSSports, the cap number for WRs this season will be around $14.5 million. Corry's article is from back in November but he has solid math and he even writes about Jeffery as a candidate for the tag:

Leg injuries have slowed Jeffery more than opposing defenses. A bad hamstring cost him four games earlier this season. Jeffery is currently dealing with a groin injury. He also missed the entire preseason with a left calf strain. The 2012 second-round pick is one of four players currently averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game. If Jeffery can put the leg problems behind him, he could land a contract from the Bears comparable to those of Green, Jones, Thomas and Bryant.

The thing is though, Jeffery didn't put those injuries behind him and ended the year on injured reserve. For that alone, $14.5 million for one year is way too much, especially if that is going to be the starting point for Jeffery's agent in negotiations.

Jeffery has the game-changing dynamics of some of those other players but his injury concerns are also higher than most of those players as well. Plus, as good as he is he doesn't really have the other-worldly ability of Julio Jones or Antonio Brown or even Dez Bryant.

If the Bears slap the tag on Jeffery it could drive a bargaining wedge too big to overcome between the Bears and Jeffery's agents. Looking over the receiver contracts at Spotrac, most receivers signed in the last year have seen numbers in the $14 million-per-year average. Perhaps they could get him into the $11-$12 million range of players like T.Y. Hilton, Jeremy Maclin or Mike Wallace but it will be an interesting thing to follow this offseason.

Jeffery has shown the ability of players like Dez Bryant and Demaryus Thomas, but he's also shown the ability to disappear for games at a time like Wallace or Maclin, be it injury or not.

So, the question is, what is Jeffery worth?