Yesterday the window for NFL teams to apply the franchise tag to one of their impending free agent players opened.
Teams have until March 1 to use the tag, if they would like.
For the Chicago Bears the only player really in consideration for the tag is Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery received the franchise designation last season as well but between his suspension and on-field performance, the team’s concerns that led to the application of the tag were not answered.
So now the Bears must either let Jeffery hit the open market or tag him for a second consecutive year and take a $17-$18 million cap hit in the process (the second tag comes with a 20 percent raise over the first tag).
Pundits and fans alike are sharing their thoughts on the subject so we pitched it to our cracked staffers here at WCG for their thoughts.
Tag him up
Steven Schweickert: The Bears have a metric bleepton of cap room and, frankly, it has to go somewhere. When healthy, Jeffery is the most talented receiver on the team and it really isn't close. Couple that with a corps rife with uncertainty (Eddie Royal as a probable cap casualty, Kevin White as a complete third year unknown - basically, former UDFA Cam Meredith is the team's top receiver outside of Jeffery) and it seems like a no-doubter to keep Jeffery under most circumstances.
Unfortunately for Jeffery, 17 million is a lot of money for a... very unreliable receiver in his tag year. He posted his worst catch percentage since his rookie season, his receptions per game were the lowest in his career since his rookie season, his yards per game were the lowest since his rookie season, his two touchdowns were the lowest since blah de blah, you get the point. Oh, and over the last two years he's picked up just over 800 yards each while missing eleven games (7 injury, 4 suspension). Even so, somebody will pay him based on his age, his 15.8 yards per reception last year, and free agent pool that has a couple... intriguing options and some role-players.
I'm not sure if they want to tag him for just the one more year, and 17 million is a lot to come up with in guaranteed cash that has minimal impact forward in a long-term deal should things sour further (It would take at least the tag in cash in year one to entice him to sign a long-term). Spotrac has him at a market value of 12.2 million and a 5 year/ 61.05 million deal. It's a lot of money for a guy who hasn't been able to be counted on, but if the Bears let him walk, then they create a further need/exacerbate their current need. So overpay for a guy just to ensure you keep a guy who has potential but not enough production to match and to not create a need in 2017, or start it fresh.
They have the money, they have enough needs as it is. Maybe even with Alshon it's a high need spot in the near future. Even so. Tag, Alshon's it.
Josh Sunderbruch: I honestly don't think Alshon is a Top 5, or even Top 10 receiver. However, I also don't believe that's what the franchise tag is about. In this case, the tag lets a struggling organization use money to buy some stability, and the Bears desperately need that. Because they have plenty of cap space and not enough talent, I think it makes sense to franchise him, maybe without serious effort at a long-term deal.
That said, this management team has not put a premium on continuity, so I can't say whether or not they will franchise him. I'll just say that they should, because they have the money and they need the talent.
Ken Mitchell (The Den Master): My thought is that Chicago will wait until the last minute to announce whether they are tagging Alshon, then they will pull the trigger and do it, even though financially it's very expensive.
If they work out a long term deal, fine... if not, they will have one more year to set a performance baseline.
Again, economically, paying him $17 (million) large is a HUGE risk, he certainly has not played like an elite player these last two years, but we have exactly two playmakers on offense, and he's one of them.
Ed Snyder: Either way it works out, the Bears will have to pay big keep him.
If they don't franchise him for the 17 mil., someone else will pay near that for the potential of having a game-changing receiver. It just kills me when people say "They should pay him 10-11 mil./year to keep him". It'll never happen. Some team will come out of the woodwork to snag him for more that that.
I'd say franchise if the best option if they think he'll contribute. 3 reasons.
1.) It's finite. They have money this year and they pay money this year. Not on the hook for after that.
2.) Gives White the chance to come back and prove he can contribute like a top receiver. If White excels they can let Alshon walk w/o cost. If not, at least they Alshon's contribution this year if White does not step up.
3.) Means the Bears can spend more FA & draft resources (in a year that has fairly deep in talent in both avenues) on positions other than WR. If Alshon walks the Bears will likely need 2 new receivers (from some combo of FA & draft) to replace him and the slot (if/when Royal is let go as well).
Let him walk
Kev Hand: The Bears will likely pay him a bunch of money, but I'm not inclined to Stan for him that much.
He's missed a third of his games the last two seasons, part of that inflicted by his own stupidity. He seems to always have a nagging leg injury. As the "go-to" "number 1" receiver on this team, he accounted for just two TDs. He had a lower catch % than most of the WRs on the team. He seemingly couldn't cultivate much chemistry with bad QBs, despite being what should have been their CLEAR priority for passing.
He's a good receiver. He's not top 5 league receiver. Tagging him will keep whomever their rookie quarterback is from developing any real rhythm or relationship, because if he plays well, he will likely just bolt after playing on the tag because someone else will pay more. Tagging him and paying him a bunch last year resulted in him getting himself suspended. Once he's got the big payday, signs seem to point more towards loaf than strive.
Robert Zeglinski: I am firmly on the keep Jeffery train but I kind of agree with Kev. He's not someone you can rely on. He's not someone who justifies being paid like the Julio Jones's or Antonio Brown's of the league. I wouldn't even him T.Y. Hilton money, because he's not reliable and I don't see him as much of a gamebreaker as Hilton is. The best thing he does is draw attention from other players, but is that really worth $15-17 million?
My only issue with letting him go - and it's a huge issue - is that they wouldn't really have a solid receiving core in place to help young guys like Cameron Meredith and Kevin White (for the optimists). If you're going to let Jeffery walk, you better bolster your receiving unit with a guy like Kenny Stills and or reach out to New Orleans for someone like Brandin Cooks. Otherwise you've got fans going after glorified special teamers such as Joshua Bellamy with pitchforks by midseason for obvious drop reasons...again.
Yes, championships aren't built or won by the strength of your receivers, but it doesn't necessarily hurt to have talented guys and depth in place to win either - especially for a young quarterback. I think the Bears are really in a bind here with Jeffery, unless they have something cooking in the works we don't know about. Not much leaks out of Halas Hall, after all.
Josh leads me to another thing I've thought about Jeffery. He certainly was a top 10 receiver at some point - in 2013. Now?
I mean, this is my personal opinion, but I would certainly take each of these guys (in no particular order) before him: Beckham, Brown, Jones, Bryant, Hopkins, Green, Hilton, Evans, Baldwin, Cooper. And there could be/are a few more options (subjective).
So is he someone that warrants the payday based off of talent relative to the rest of the league? No.
Is he someone they have to pay like a top 15 guy (better fit for him) relative to the Bears' talent? Probably.
Either way Pace will be taken to the woodshed here until there's more evidence. Whatever happens with Jeffery, I can't wait for people in September to make this the next hindsight "Should've taken Prescott!" point. This fanbase and this market is very good at driving stories out of nowhere and dwelling on everything.
Sam Householder: For me, I can't see them tagging Alshon again. I think the money is prohibitive and when a player is tagged, that's usually where the player's agent wants to start negotiating in terms of per-year salary and $17 mil is way too high for Alshon. I think the Bears might legitimately let him hit the open market and hope that, in a Briggs type situation, the money he wants isn't out there so he ends up coming back to Chicago for the deal that they put out as their best offer.
Has no idea
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr.: I honestly have no idea which way the Bears are leaning with Jeffery. If I was in control of the checkbook, I'd re-sign him.
Do you think the Bears will use the franchise tag on Alshon or not?