Before the draft new Bears General Manager Ryan Pace was asked if Alshon Jeffery was a “number one” wide receiver. He was complimentary of Jeffery, but he never said “yes.” New coach John Fox indicated work ethic and conditioning were a concern for Jeffery, a possible reason they haven’t approached him about a new contract.
If you listen to what Fox’s buddy Jay Glazer said during the draft, it wasn’t just that the Bears loved Kevin White. They were targeting a wide receiver with the seventh pick. Teams don’t make that kind of investment — in addition to what they already have in Matt Forte and Marty Bennett — if they think they already have a star receiver. At least smart teams don’t and the teams Pace and Fox have been associated with in the past have not done so.
The fact that there are still questions about Jeffery seems crazy when you look at his production. Jeffrey won’t turn 26 until the end of this season and has already caught 174 passes for 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
After suffering a hamstring injury in the first game of the season, Jeffery’s 2015 season was impressive, catching 85 passes and 10 touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen had an average passer rating of 105 when throwing Jeffery’s way. But he was still the second option and was third on the team in receptions.
Jeffery has made a ton of highlight plays for the Bears, but he has struggled when opposing defensive backs get physical with him, sometimes runs sloppy routes and has also dropped numerous passes in key situations. After Brandon Marshall went down, Jeffery had a chance to prove he could be “the guy” in the final three games of the season, but he managed just 12 catches for 184 yards.
Those are real issues that make it hard to argue he is a number one receiver, but that’s exactly what he’s going to try to get paid like. Considering the contract second tier receiver Randall Cobb just received, the minimum the Bears would likely be able to get Jeffrey to sign for is likely $10 million per season. The Bears aren’t going to pay him that kind of money until they know he’s worth it.
If Jeffery isn’t their number one, it’s hard to see where he fits with the Bears going forward, unless he signs for number two money. While Kevin White’s rookie contract would make paying Jeffery easier, it also raises questions about the allocation of resources. There really isn’t any evidence that investing major assets in star wide receivers increases Super Bowl odds.
The Bears haven’t made a final decision, but it’s clear which way they’re leaning. Jeffery gets a chance to prove his worth this year. He is going to get the most passes thrown his way. He just has to take advantage. Having been doubted since he left South Carolina, the big wide receiver now has sixteen games to prove the Bears wrong and prove he is worth top money at his position.