Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery insisted “I’ve got nothing to prove to no one” when he returns from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“I just go out there and do my job and play football and play hard,” he said.
That in itself leaves Jeffery with something to prove — not only to Bears general manager Ryan Pace, but the entire NFL as Jeffery enters another offseason of free agency: Can he stay healthy and clean at the same time?
From a performance standpoint — especially as it pertains to free agency and his next NFL contract — Jeffery’s suspension cost him nothing. He’s still the same Pro Bowl caliber player he’s been since he caught 89 balls for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns in his second season in 2013.
Nothing he does or doesn’t do in the next three games is likely to change that. Even with Jay Cutler missing five games while Jeffery was eligible, Jeffery still was on pace for 71 receptions for 1,120 yards (15.8 avg.) this season. He only had one touchdown in the first nine games, but if you’ve seen the Bears offense this season, you know that’s not an Alshon Jeffery problem. The bottom line: In normal NFL offensive circumstances, Jeffery is the big-play, always-open receiver any winning team has to have.
Be that as it may, the next three games won’t answer the only pertinent question about Alshon Jeffery — his availability. Jeffery would not divulge any information on the circumstances of his suspension. But after an injury marred 2015 season in which he played only nine games, it figures that Jeffery was doing everything he could to stay healthy and for the first nine games, he was. The question is: how far did he have to go?
“I’m not talking about that right now,” Jeffery said when asked if the supplement that led to the suspension was related to him staying healthy. “I said what I had to say about the supplements. I’m just focused on the Green Bay Packers.”
Will it be difficult to stay healthy and legal after the suspension? “I don’t think so,” he said.
Talking with reporters for the first time since the suspension was announced on Nov. 14, Jeffery expounded little on his statement of apology and contrition he released a day after the announcement.
“I’m not going to talk about what happened or who recommended [the supplement],” Jeffery said. “Like I said [in the statement], I’m going to own up to it and I accept the punishment. At the end of the day, it’s my name on it. So I’m moving forward with it. It is what it is. I learned from it. That’s all I can say.”
The lesson he learned was as obviously as it was simple: “Just got to know what you put in your body,” he said.
A team captain for the first time in his fifth NFL season, Jeffery acknowledged he let the team down. The Bears were 1-3 in his absence, and all three losses were by a touchdown or less — to the Giants (22-16), the Titans (27-21) and Lions (20-17).
“It was pretty tough just watching, knowing there’s nothing you can do,” said Jeffery, who has 40 receptions for 630 yards (15.8 avg.) and one touchdown in nine games this season. “I feel like if I was playing, some of those games we would have had a different outcome. We probably would have won.”
There might be one benefit to Jeffery’s suspension. To stay in shape during his four-week absence (he was not allowed to enter the Bears facility at Halas Hall) he discovered yoga, a workout regimen associated with good health — including in NFL players like Ray Lewis, who credited yoga with keeping him at Pro Bowl level in his 15th and 16th seasons; and Calvin Johnson, who missed nine games in nine seasons with the Lions; and Vernon Davis, who has missed four games in his last nine seasons.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’ve got nothing else to do,” Jeffery said.
Jeffery already has the clear head necessary for yoga. He doesn’t sweat much. His reputation, his future with the Bears, the money he lost, the potential money he might have lost are of no concern to him.
“It is what it is. There’s nothing I can do about it,” he said when asked about the repercussions of the suspension. “All I can do is try to work hard. Hopefully whatever happens at the end of the season is something good.”
So the man on the spot, as it turns out, will be Pace, who has to decide how badly he needs Alshon Jeffery on his team in 2017 and beyond.
“It’s up to him to judge, [however] the situation plays out,” Jeffery said. “But right now, I’m on this team. That’s all I care about and am focused on.”