Bears general manager Ryan Pace was surprisingly matter-of-fact about losing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in free agency.
‘‘I wouldn’t say I was disappointed,’’ Pace said in March, when Jeffery turned down an offer from the Bears to sign a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Eagles.
The Bears couldn’t afford that?
‘‘We talked about those things with him, and those discussions go back and forth,’’ Pace said during the free-agency period. ‘‘Ultimately, that’s what was decided.
‘‘We knew when we didn’t [franchise] tag him that these were scenarios that could happen. We put a value on each player. I wish him the best and Philly the best. That’s what we decided.’’
Jeffery’s departure is emblematic of the Bears’ fortunes in the post-Lovie Smith era: Even when they get one right, it turns out wrong. Jeffery was a homegrown player who exceeded expectations. Then-GM Phil Emery traded up from No. 50 to No. 45 in the second round of the 2012 draft to get him. Jeffery made the Pro Bowl in his second season and after five seasons ranked third on the Bears’ all-time list for career receiving yards. He was the elusive playmaker the Bears had craved, an always-open receiver who made any quarterback better. He even was voted a team captain last season.
But when it came time to seal a deal that at one time should have been a no-brainer, Jeffery’s interest in staying in Chicago was even lower than the Bears’ interest in keeping him here.
‘‘Business is business,’’ Jeffery said as he struggled to explain the divorce on a conference call Wednesday with Chicago reporters. ‘‘How can I say this? I think it was just a better decision for me and my family, honestly.
‘‘I spent five years there. I loved it there. I had a great time. I appreciate the opportunity. Me being in Chicago, it gave me an opportunity to live
out my childhood dream [of] playing professional sports.’’
Asked about the Bears’ apparent lack of enthusiasm, Jeffery moved on.
‘‘I’m not worried about that,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m in Philly now. Can’t take the past back. It is what it is.’’
Extenuating circumstances on both sides played a role. Jeffery’s soft-tissue injuries in 2015 and his suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs cast doubt on whether he could stay healthy and eligible in the long term. The Bears’ offense wasn’t a selling point and, with Jay Cutler released, Jeffery no longer had a quarterback he could count on. He signed with the Eagles, who had up-and-coming quarterback Carson Wentz, one day before the Bears signed Mike Glennon.
Jeffery has been productive with the Eagles but not a sensation. He has 38 receptions for 567 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games, including 12 receptions for 213 yards and four touchdowns in the last three. But his averages of 14.9 yards per catch and 56.7 yards per game are below his numbers with the Bears (15 yards per catch, 72.2 yards per game).
After losing receivers Cam Meredith in the preseason and Kevin White in the regular-season opener, the Bears miss Jeffery’s production even more than anyone thought. But there’s more resignation than regret at Halas Hall. If a guy doesn’t want to be here, you just have to move on.
‘‘Hindsight is always 20/20,’’ Bears coach John Fox said. ‘‘He’s a guy we liked. We did talk to him; it’s not like we were not in the mix. A lot of times, [the players] have decisions in that, as well.’’
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