Whether they did it knowingly or not, by giving Alshon Jeffery a huge extension during the season, the Philadelphia Eagles made their success model next to impossible to duplicate.
The Eagles gave Jeffery the kind of contract the Bears would not, especially coming off his shaky-at-best 2016. AJ will average $13 million per season for the next 4 years, with a total guarantee of roughly $27 million. The Eagles are the champs so every move looks golden but what they actually did was inflate the wide receiver market by paying a premier contract to a non-premier player.
The Bears have come under constant criticism for not bringing Jeffery back but:
- He hasn’t had 1,000 yards or 10 touchdowns in a season since 2014.
- This year he caught less than half of his targets for the Eagles.
- After the Patriots switched Stephon Gilmore on to Jeffery in the Super Bowl, he became a ghost. It looked like it would be easy to point to Sunday and say the Bears should’ve paid him, but that game is exactly why Ryan Pace didn’t. What happened to Jeffery doesn’t happen to number one receivers and now Jeffery is paid like one.
And other receivers will want to cash in.
We’ve already seen this story in Green Bay with Davante Adams. Despite never topping 1,000 yards in a season — and only surpassing 500 twice — Adams got a whopping $30 million guaranteed and an average of $14.5 million per season.
What is a player like Allen Robinson going to make? Robinson is coming off of a torn ACL, but is two years removed from a 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season and he’s just 24 years old. His agent could use the one-year deal Jeffery initially signed as evidence to why a team should offer Robinson more initially. And he’ll probably succeed.
There’s plenty of disputing Jarvis Landry’s impact — and his Bubba Franks-like 8.8 yards per catch — but there’s no question teams will see value in 112 catches and 9 touchdowns.
The rest of the market could be thrown out of whack too. If an 800-yard receiver on a passing team gets $13 million guaranteed, what do 700-yard receivers on running teams like Paul Richardson and Marqise Lee demand? And there’s Sammy Watkins too! But if Pace didn’t trust Jeffery enough to give him a big contract, it’s doubtful he’ll put faith in Watkins.
The market has a number of third-tier players like Albert Wilson and Taylor Gabriel. Those players can help, for sure, but they’re not the kinds of players a team should turn to to fix its passing game.
In his three years as the Bears GM, we’ve seen Pace set his price and stick to it when it comes to free agency. If he does that this year, it’s hard to see him coming away with any of the top guys. The Bears might be better off looking at the trade market to find their new number one receiver.
Denver could be looking to offload Demaryius Thomas so they have more money to make a run at Kirk Cousins. Thomas has taken a hit statistically the last two seasons because the Broncos haven’t had anything close to adequate quarterback play, but he’s probably still better than anybody who is available on the free agent market. He’s 30 and has a $17.5 cap hit in 2019, but he could buy the Bears a year to figure out what Cam Meredith and Kevin White are.
With Thomas, Meredith and White, the Bears could bring back Dontrelle Inman and sign Albert Wilson to compete with a draft pick and they’d be significantly better than they were last year as long as they don’t lose their top three receivers to injury again.
While fans seem to be against taking a receiver in the first round, it’s something the Bears will surely consider. Calvin Ridley is the consensus top receiver and Pace has shown in the past he’s willing to take older players in the draft. While not top-heavy, the draft is considered to be deep at receiver, so it would be surprising if the Bears didn’t take one with one of their first three picks.
The Eagles improved drastically because they were aggressive in putting weapons around their young quarterback (and that quarterback was aggressive in improving his mechanics). The Bears are going to be aggressive, but it’ll be more difficult because a former Bear’s contract means it is no longer a buyer’s market.