The Bears of general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have been comfortable with prove-it scenarios in their year-plus in Chicago. Indications are growing that they’re leaning toward another one with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
By way of perspective: When Pace took over as Bears general manager a year-and-a-half ago, he hired Fox, and Fox in turn brought Adam Gase with him from Denver as his offensive coordinator. What ensued was a detailed, under-the-radar scrutiny of Jay Cutler, with Gase reaching out to Cutler’s former coaches for their perspectives, among other vettings of the incumbent quarterback.
Neither Fox nor Pace publicly expressed more than tempered positive feelings about Cutler, even with the organization on the hook for a significant amount of money because of the contract given Cutler by former general manager Phil Emery. Chairman George McCaskey stated that the new staff would not be constrained by money if the decision was to move on without Cutler, whose contract still was decidedly not to the liking of the revamped organization, sources have told CSNChicago.com.
Proceeding with restraint and reservations yielded results for a new staff feeling its way with what Emery had declared a “franchise” and “elite” quarterback. Working with Gase and then-quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, now Cutler’s offensive coordinator, Cutler produced the best statistical season of his career.
Now the Bears appear to be following a similar theme with Jeffery (who actually is a “franchise” wide receiver and has the signed tag to prove it). Not that the Bears aren’t down with Jeffery, just not to the degree he envisoned, and perhaps the Bears would be offering if Jeffery had been a gameday “show” more often than he was in 2015.
The Bears placed their franchise tag on Jeffery in late February, and the fourth-year wideout signed the deal that guarantees him $14.6 million for this season. The tag gives the two sides until July 15 to reach a multi-year contract, after which point the tag is Jeffery’s 2016 contract.
Pace has expressed what has sounded like gradually lessening optimism that a long-term deal would be negotiated. The staff was comfortable with Jeffery’s recent injury issues that cost him about half of last season, at least comfortable enough to consider a new contract — with reservations, the kind that come with talking an expensive contract with a player who missed nearly half the preceding season.
Concurrently, Jeffery has been a no-show for all of the Bears’ offseason programs or practices, working out on his own, first in California, lately in Florida.
Jeffery’s absence points to the obvious, that a deal to his liking, in the Dez Bryant/Demaryius Thomas range of $14 million-to-$15 million range per year, has not reached near completion. Matt Forte played through his tag season. Jeffery will play for his (players don’t skip $14.6 million), and the continued absence even from voluntary sessions says that is the anticipated short-term resolution.
Unfortunately, irrespective of tags, if there is one unofficial indicator of contract problems, it is the no-show.
With two years left on his contract at the time, Thomas Jones employed it in 2006 before then-general manager Jerry Angelo agreed to work at trading him after the following season (which Angelo did). Forte no-show’d in 2011 after he received the franchise tag that offseason, then signed a four-year deal next offseason after Emery succeeded Angelo.
Martellus Bennett, with two years remaining on his Bears contract, skipped voluntary sessions last offseason. He eventually honored his contract, then was traded to New England this offseason.
Just one glitch in the skip-workouts thinking: Jones got new paper from the New York Jets after Angelo dealt him there. Bennett did get himself traded to New England, but the Patriots haven’t done any more in the way of giving him a new deal than the Bears did. He’s still signed through 2016, still due $5.1 million this season. Maybe he envisions getting more balls from Tom Brady than he did from Cutler, but if he’s counting on more than Rob Gronkowski, good luck with that.