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No big deal: Alshon Jeffery will play 2016 on franchise tag

Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (AP).

The 2016 season is officially a prove-it year for Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery.

As expected, the Bears and Jeffery failed to agree on a long-term contract by 3 p.m. Friday, the deadline for negotiations for players who received a franchise-tag tender.

When the Broncos signed superstar outside linebacker Von Miller to a six-year, $114.5 million contract, Jeffery’s agent, Tory Dandy, congratulated him on Twitter Friday.

“I am glad to see [Miller] hold firm and get his well earned and deserved money! Congrats,” Dandy said before later deleting his message.

Jeffery’s camp, of course, decided to “hold firm” in their negotiations. But so did the Bears.

Jeffery wants to paid like an elite NFL receiver. The Bears view Jeffery as part of their future, but were reluctant to reward him with a deal that puts him in the upper echelon of his position at this time.

There are concerns about Jeffery after he missed seven games last season because of various lower-body, soft-tissue injuries and later skipped the voluntary portions of their offseason program.

Jeffery, who signed his franchise-tag tender in March, will make $14.6 million this season. He is currently second among receivers in annual average, trailing only the Bengals’ A.J. Green, who is at $15 million.

Last year at this time, the Broncos and Cowboys, respectively, signed receivers Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant to five-year, $70 million contracts.

“Believe in yourself,” Jeffery said on Twitter a week ago.

Jeffery clearly is betting on himself by not agreeing to a long-term deal. He has an opportunity to increase his price tag for 2017 by having a productive, Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he can also hurt his value should he get injured.

It’s a risk the Bears are comfortable with, considering their healthy salary-cap situation and the current uncertainty surrounding Jeffery. The franchise tag remains an option for Jeffery next year, too.

When healthy, Jeffery’s talents are obvious. He may not have elite speed, but his strong, reliable hands and ability to consistently get jump balls are extremely valuable.

In nine games last season, Jeffery made 54 catches for 807 yards and four touchdowns. He was by far the Bears’ best receiver. Jeffery’s per-game average of 89.7 receiving yards was the seventh-best mark in the NFL.

But Jeffery’s injury situation defined his 2015 campaign. Starting in the preseason, he was sidelined by calf, hamstring and groin injuries throughout the year. As a result, he failed to capitalize on his first contract year.

The Bears believe they can get a handle on Jeffery’ nagging injury issues, especially being in Year 2 of their revamped training program under general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox.

But the team’s efforts were deterred by Jeffery’s decision to skip the voluntary portions of Fox’s second offseason program. Jeffery participated in only two days of practice this offseason, which came during the team’s abbreviated mandatory minicamp in June.

Speaking to reporters at minicamp, Jeffery said he and Dandy decided that training elsewhere was “the best situation for me.”

According to league rules, the Bears and Jeffery can’t negotiate again until January. By then, both sides will know how valuable Jeffery truly is.

“I’ll let my game take care of itself,” Jeffery said last month. “Everything else is going to get sorted out.”