One of the biggest storylines as the Bears head to Philadelphia to face the 9-1 Eagles on Sunday is that former Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will line up against the team that drafted him and that he spent the first five years of his career with.
Jeffery left in free agency this past offseason, after playing under the franchise tag for a year. It wasn’t for a lack of trying as the Bears were concerned, they made an effort to keep him but he didn’t seem to want to stay. In fact, despite multi-year offers from the Vikings, Colts and Bears, Jeffery chose a one-year deal from Philadelphia for $9.5 million.
It seemed like a head scratcher at the time: Jeffery is a young (27), proven receiver who can stretch the field and be physical for 50/50 balls who was unhappy with the tag and seemed to want the longterm security of a bigger contract extension.
However, Jeffery has plenty of durability issues and was suspended for four games last year stemming from a PED violation. Using a one-year deal to “prove” his worth as a No. 1 WR could set him up for more money this coming offseason.
If Jeffery dominates the Bears Sunday, more fans will lament that the Bears could’t keep him and that that has expedited their WR issues.
However, I don’t think his presence would alleviate all of the Bears’ passing game weapons issues.
I won’t tell you that the Bears don’t miss Alshon this year but I think they are better off without him being signed to a longer term deal last offseason.
The main problem is that Jeffery, as good as he is, isn’t worth what he would have required to sign.
Chicago doesn’t have a ton of cap space currently (about $7.35 million according to Spotrac) but Jeffery, on an extension would’ve had hit north of $10 million for ‘17.
The average yearly for WRs that have signed extensions the past two years falls into the $14 million to $17 million range and, as is the economics of the NFL, it would have been closer to the $17 mil range because the newest deal is always the most.
The latest receivers to get new money are DeAndre Hopkins ($16.2 mil/yr) and Antonio Brown ($17 mil./yr). Given Jeffery’s durability and his suspension last season, it’s hard to justify that much money. Jeffery, don’t forget, has just two 1,000 yard seasons and has played in 16 games just twice.
Even with those knocks, he still would’ve commanded about $14 or $15 million per year and that would be in line with Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas. Who would say that any of those three are better than Jeffery? In fact his numbers are closest to T.Y. Hilton and Dez Bryant and in terms of yards per game, TDs per game and receptions per game he is even or slightly behind (except YPG). However, each of those receivers hve more 1,000 yard seasons and more double-digit TD seasons than Alshon (except Hilton, who has never had double digit TDs).
And sure, with a Jeffery deal they wouldn’t have needed the deals of Markus Wheaton ($5.25 million cap hit), Kendall Wright ($1.8 million) or Dontrelle Inman ($1.6 million) that’s only $8 million and would still leave the WR cupboard bare after injuries to Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.
That means to get the extra money the Bears can’t give Akiem Hicks an extension before the season starts and can’t sign one of Marcus Cooper, Prince Amukamara or Dion Sims. While none of those three signings looks great in hindsight, at the time they each appeared to be positions of need and were slotted to be starters or, in the case of Sims, significant contributors.
That would hamstring an already weak roster and wouldn’t have helped the team much more going forward. I also don’t think that Jeffery would significantly help open things up for Mitch Trubisky or been a transcendent leader for the offense.
Jeffery’s biggest seasons came when he was benefiting from the extra attention Brandon Marshall was commanding. Even this year, on a high-flying Eagles offense he is only just their leader in yards (31 ahead of Zach Ertz) and is solidly second on the team in receptions (38, behind Ertz by seven and eight ahead of Nelson Algohor). Jeffery is on pace for 61 catches, 907 yards and about 10 TDs.
That’s a solid season but not exactly Pro-Bowl caliber. Furthermore, he is currently 28th in the league in receiving yards, behind all of the players I mentioned before and he’s playing with an MVP-contending QB. The only player making bigger money than him with worse production is Pierre Garcon, but Garcon has missed two games and had played with perhaps the worst QB situation in the league.
Jeffery also has only caught 47.5 percent of his targets, which is dead last among players with his number of targets.
The last thing the Bears need is a player that can’t consistently catch the ball.
As brilliant as Jeffery could be, his overall durability and lack of true No. 1 WR dominance shows that the Bears aren’t missing much without Alshon.
So while he may impress on Sunday or even dominate, don’t think that the Bears made a mistake.