Despite all the stagnancy and friction between the Bears and wide receiver -Allen Robinson over his contract the last two years, an opening exists for the sides to make peace.
Robinson still dreams of being the franchise’s all-time leading receiver and would like to stick around long enough to make it happen. The ongoing dispute over what he’s worth — Robinson has pointed to massive contracts for comparable players, and the Bears have consistently balked at his price — has not left him disillusioned.
“That’s something that’s definitely still in play,” he said of chasing the record Johnny Morris set in 1967. “Obviously, it would take big years . . . but those things are still on the horizon.”
Robinson repeatedly steered the conversation back to the Bears’ opener against the Rams on Sunday, but he’s fully aware what’s at stake.
He wanted a landmark extension and had good reason to believe he had earned it after catching 255 passes for 3,151 yards and 17 touchdowns over his first three seasons with the Bears — giving the team more than it paid for on the original $42 million deal.
Rather than reward that and secure Robinson in his prime at 28, the Bears used the franchise tag and will pay him $18 million. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent again in March.
The Bears’ reluctance to pony up for a top receiver — Robinson was sixth in the NFL in catches (102), ninth in yards (1,250) and 29th in touchdowns (six) with Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles at quarterback — is puzzling because they’ve often lacked exactly that. No matter how coach Matt Nagy has spun it, there has not been a surplus of playmakers in the passing game.
The Bears’ historical dearth at the position is illustrated in Robinson’s pursuit of the franchise record for yards receiving. Morris set it at 5,059 over 10 seasons at a time when the NFL was not nearly as pass-happy as it is today.
Robinson can vault into the top 10 all-time in his fourth season with the team. He would overtake running back Matt Forte for seventh in franchise history with 1,000 yards, and a monster season of at least 1,348 yards would put him sixth ahead of Curtis Conway.
If Robinson maintains the 70-yards-per-game average he has had with the Bears, he would claim the all-time record midway through next season — if he’s still around.
Robinson seems to be leaving every option open, including a long-term future with the Bears. He also feels as if he has no need to be fixated on showing them they’ve undervalued him.
“I’m constantly self-motivated,” Robinson said. “I’m not focusing on proving anybody wrong, proving anybody whatever. It’s just about me going out there and -getting better and continuing to ascend as a player in this league.”
It is possible that he’s still on his way up. Robinson has established his effectiveness on the outside and as a slot receiver and will surely benefit from improved quarterback play. The Bears are better with Andy Dalton than they were with Trubisky or Foles, and the big-picture outlook is sky-high with rookie Justin Fields getting ready to take over.
The Bears have upgraded the players around Robinson, too, with a more accomplished, more serious receiver room. This should be a breakout season for second-year tight end Cole Kmet, too, and the Bears hope running back David Montgomery emerges as a star.
But Robinson is still their best shot. That never seems to change. He’s the most reliable part of an offense that has been anything but.