No Alshon Jeffery? No top CB? The right price matters to Bears
Where did things go wrong with Alshon Jeffery? Why will he be Carson Wentz’s top target with the Eagles, not Mike Glennon’s in Chicago? Why is he no longer with the Bears?
Price matters. And so does organizational philosophy.
General manager Ryan Pace had money to spend — nearly $51.5 million in salary-cap space before quarterback Jay Cutler was released — but there was no promise that he would. If anything, Pace promised to remain targeted in his approach, keeping signings within certain financial parameters that he and director of football administration Joey Laine had established for their free-agent targets.
It’s a course of action that shouldn’t be mistaken for stinginess. The Bears were willing to spend, but Pace doesn’t believe in building his team through free agency. His rebuilding efforts are rooted in the draft, not in players that other teams are unwilling to re-sign for whatever the reasons.
It’s uncertain what the Bears had set for Jeffery, but they undoubtedly had to pay up to keep him. He had openly expressed a willingness to sign elsewhere. For the second consecutive year, he was looking for a deal that would put him among the best at his position.
At least for one season, Jeffery got that from the Eagles: a reported $14 million for 2017. It certainly helps to have Wentz, the No. 2 pick last year, as part of your pitch, too.
The market didn’t develop as Jeffery’s camp thought it would. That’s why he essentially has another one-year, prove-it deal — one that’s for less than the franchise tag he played under for the Bears last season.
Other teams shared the same concerns about Jeffery’s availability, stemming from his injury-plagued 2015 season and his four-game suspension last year. The Bears were leery of rewarding a player with such question marks.
Still, Jeffery’s departure leaves the team desperately thin at receiver. Adding Markus Wheaton only helps so much. Wheaton, 26, missed most of last season for the Steelers because of a nagging shoulder injury, but he had 44 catches for 749 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.
The Bears need Kevin White, their first-round pick in 2015, to become a significant contributor after the second major surgery on his left leg.
Complicating matters is what happened to the Bears’ attempts to improve their secondary. The team was in play for top free-agent cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye, but they agreed to lucrative deals elsewhere.
The Patriots reportedly gave Gilmore, whom the Bills drafted with the 10th overall pick in 2012, a five-year, $65 million contract, with a whopping $40 million guaranteed. That’s unprecedented spending for the Patriots in free agency.
On the other end of the winning spectrum, the lowly Jaguars — one of the most aggressive teams in free agency every year — reportedly signed Bouye, an undrafted signing by the Texans in 2013, to a five-year, $67.5 million contract.
The Titans also agreed to terms with cornerback Logan Ryan, a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2013, on a three-year deal worth a reported $30 million late Thursday.
Cornerback certainly counts among the “critical needs” that Pace referenced last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. So losing out stings to an extent, perhaps more so than Jeffery’s departure.
But price still matters.
“Free agency is dangerous,” Pace said last week. “You’re stepping through land mines, and you’ve got to be careful you don’t step on the wrong one. A lot of times, these guys are available for a reason, so you have to sort through that.”