The first important date in regards to the 2021 NFL season is today, February 23, as the window to designate players as “franchise” or “transition” officially opens. Teams will have two-weeks to place the tag on one of their unrestricted free agents, with the most likely player on the Chicago Bears to get tagged being wide receiver Allen Robinson.
The Bears and Robinson tried to come to a contract extension last offseason, as he was heading into the final year of the contract he signed in 2018, but nothing ever materialized. Some other wide outs getting long term extensions during that time could have slowed negotiations, but whatever the reason, the Bears and Robinson weren’t able to come to an agreement.
Per the NFL’s CBA, the Bears have the option to tag Robinson to ensure he remains in Chicago at least one more year, and since Robinson was making $14 million per season on his last deal, his 2021 franchise tag will be $17.88 million.
The tag number is usually a fair place to start for an annual average when working out a long term deal, but as with most NFL contracts, the guaranteed money is the most important. Robinson and his representatives may be looking at some recent contracts for some framework.
The new deal given to the Los Angeles Chargers Keenan Allen gave him an annual average salary of $20 million with $32 million guaranteed.
The Rams’ Cooper Kupp received a three-year extension with over $20 million guaranteed and an annual average salary of $15.75M.
While Robinson, who won’t turn 28-years old until this summer, will certainly want to get fair market value for his services, I would also imagine he’d like to play with a good quarterback for once in his career. I can’t see A-Rob agreeing to a long term deal anywhere until he sees that franchise’s plan at quarterback.
So what will the Bears do?
I think the most likely scenario will be the non-exclusive franchise tag, which would allow Robinson to negotiate with other teams, but if he’s signed to an offer sheet, then the Bears have the option to match it. If the Bears decline to match, then the new team will need to send two first-round draft picks to the Bears. Since I don’t think any team will risk having to send two firsts to the Bears, I doubt any team would sign Robinson to an offer sheet.
This would essentially buy the Bears some time to work out a long term deal for themselves, or work out a trade with another team for less than the two first round picks.
What are their other tag options?
The exclusive franchise tag is the same as the non-exclusive one, but the player is not allowed to negotiate with other teams. The dollar amount would be the same in Robinson’s case, so there would be no benefit to go this route unless the Bears are dead set on not letting him leave at all.
The transition tag can be used on one player while a franchise tag is used on another. The transition tag is what the Bears used on Kyle Fuller a few years ago, but I don’t think it’ll come into play this year with A-Rob considering his dollar amount would be that same $17.88 million as on the other tags. When Fuller was tagged in 2018 his transition amount was lower than his franchise number, and when he signed an offer sheet with the Packers the Bears quickly matched. The difference in this and the non-exclusive franchise tag is that if Robinson signed to an offer sheet and the Bears declined to match, they’d receive no draft pick compensation.
Allowing Robinson to walk with no viable replacement makes zero sense for the Bears. There’s no way head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace will head into a make-or-break year with second year pro Darnell Mooney as their number one receiving option. That’s no knock on Mooney, but to expect him to make the leap from 5th-round rookie to WR1 in one season is unrealistic.
I also can’t see Robinson sitting out on the tag and leaving nearly $18 million on the table. Even if he plays on the tag for one year, he’s still young enough to cash in on a long term deal after the 2021 season.
If he plays on it, and the Bears tag him again for the 2022 season, that’ll be about $21.5 million guaranteed for that year. That would get him near that Amari-type of guarantee in just two seasons, and then he’d still be able to look for a new contract when he’s 29-years old. I doubt things extend out that far, but if they do he’ll be well compensated.