Technically, when Alshon Jeffery said "I guarantee you we are going to win the Super Bowl next year" last January, it didn't have to mean with the Bears. While he was still a part of Chicago's roster on New Year's Day 2017, his earnest vow could've been construed as a part of any team for the pending unrestricted free agent. As fate would have it a little over two months later, Jeffery would leave the Bears almost immediately - four minutes after free agency opened - to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, leaving no doubts as to where his plans always lay.
Flash forward approximately 11 months later, despite losing MVP-caliber quarterback Carson Wentz, Jeffery's Eagles sit one win away from the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history. The 27-year-old talented but inconsistent wideout, who never experienced any more than eight wins in a season with the Bears, is in new territory. The midseason long-term extended receiver, is part of the latest "David" NFL team in the Eagles that, in the words of John Malkovich will get a shot to bring down the league's "two Goliath's" that is the Patriots.
By all estimation, given the financial security and viability of his new team in Philadelphia as a contender, Jeffery justifiably couldn't be happier. Everything has come together swimmingly for the South Carolina native.
Good for the Bears. Good for the Eagles. Good for Jeffery's family. Most importantly: good for him.
Jeffery leaving Chicago last spring was never about there being animosity. It was never about him being selfish and thinking only of money or the cliche "greedy" diatribes people often lean too far back on. Nor was it about the Bears pinching pennies because they didn't want to invest in a player they didn't believe to be a worthy superstar investment. Sure, negotiating bridges were burned when general manager Ryan Pace elected not to extend the wide receiver who had not proven reliable enough to warrant a big money extension back in 2015, but that's part of the business.
This departure was always about Jeffery, a player hitting his prime, awaiting the first of two hopeful large contracts that every successful long-time NFL player ideally receives, and seeking greener pastures to win before he can't contribute at a clip he prefers. This was about Jeffery going to an Eagles organization that desired and respected his services, but was also apprehensive in their initial investment in him given the one-year $14 million dollar deal he eventually signed.
Like so many other professional athletes before him, Jeffery did the most advantageous thing for his NFL career moving forward. He took the money, he took the opportunity to contend, and he ran away with it with glee. There's nothing wrong with that, nor was there ever. He didn't want to be a part of the "charter" organization that didn't see him as an incremental piece, one that didn't have a franchise quarterback in place (until two months later).
While they could've handled previous dealings with their former second-round pick better, the Bears ultimately did the right thing for the future of their team too. Investing as much money into Jeffery as he sought out would've made no sense in retrospect given how Chicago ultimately divvied up cap spendings. Make no mistake that the Bears could've desperately used better weapons for Mitchell Trubisky this past year. It was never going to be wise to come at the cost of Jeffery, or his ability, though.
Because let's be forthright, even now in Philadelphia, Jeffery is far from the No. 1 wideout or passing option many believe him to be. The Eagles offense runs through stud tight end Zach Ertz. Then it runs through him again. Then it goes through him one more time. He's that good, and he takes precedence over the up-and-down Jeffery.
Jeffery, who was merely second on the team in receiving yards in 2017, caught 57 passes on 120 targets (the most targets of any Eagle). That's an incredibly inefficient catch rate of less than 50-percent for someone receiving such a high volume of play. That's someone who is more of a secondary, or even third read in an offense, regardless of the occasional circus catches he's capable of making. That's not exactly someone reliable enough that the Bears and Pace would've loved making the ninth-highest paid receiver in the NFL in paying him $13 million per year long-term. There's a reason Jeffery is no longer wearing a Bears uniform.
Of late, even as the Bears have nowhere near earned the general public benefit of the doubt, it's hard to find much fault with their decision not to retain Jeffery with all of that in mind.
That's all in the past now. As you watched him catch two touchdowns to seal the Eagles' victory in the NFC Championship Game over the Vikings, you couldn't help but smile. You couldn't help but feel delighted for the opportunity ahead of him in two weeks. He earned this shot in Philadelphia. Every glorious second of it.
Jeffery cashed out, stayed healthy, and got to continue his NFL career in a city where he's loved (not that he still isn't loved in Chicago). He gets to play for a Super Bowl on the grandest American sports stage, and attempt to slay football's greatest dragon ever. One can only imagine what will be going through his mind in Minnesota a little less than two weeks from now. You know he'll be prepared at any rate.
I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy watching Jeffery play for the Bears and set records abound when he could. To me, his 2013 season is the most fun I've ever had seeing a receiver play. Acrobatic catch after acrobatic catch, week after week. A human highlight reel. The football version of a man posterizing defenders with dunks from the free throw line with ease. Jeffery continued that energetic, effortless brand of receiving in 2014, as your eyes always widened and your pupils dilated with every signature "Jeffery" play.
Then, as he progressively became less reliable for the Bears towards the end of his Chicago career in 2015 and 2016, I nevertheless enjoyed watching Jeffery turn it "on." After all, a Jeffery at his peak was unmatched in terms of unbridled joy. He professionally broke NFL defenses for Chicago, but in the most graceful way one could imagine.
When we set our sights on Super Bowl LII, I'll firmly be in the Eagles' corner because of him. I'll be rooting for Jeffery to accomplish something he never believed he could do with the Bears, meaning hoisting a Lombardi trophy. If he does, I can't begin to explain to you how wide my grin will be. If he and Philadelphia fall short, at least it's nice to know he's found an NFL home that appreciates him and where he can be continue to be himself.
That frankly, still warrants a beaming smile from me.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and is a contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.