BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — When wide receiver Alshon Jeffery became a free agent last offseason, he wanted to go to a team that would appreciate him.
That wasn’t the Bears.
“In free agency, you know what teams want you and who doesn’t want you,” Jeffery said Thursday. “Philly, I felt like they wanted me a lot more than the team I was on, I’ll tell you that.”
Asked whether he thought the Bears wanted to re-sign him at all, Jeffery was clear.
“I’d been there five years,” Jeffery said. “I felt like I was wanted more in Philly than where I was at.”
The Bears weren’t shocked when he went elsewhere. General manager Ryan Pace even said, “I wouldn’t say I was disappointed” when Jeffery signed a one-year, $14 million deal to join the Eagles in March.
The Bears wound up needing someone just like Jeffery — a big receiver who could serve as a safety blanket for rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Jeffery’s decision, meanwhile, worked out perfectly for him. He signed a four-year, $52 million extension in December to stay with the Eagles.
On Sunday, he’s starting in the Super Bowl for the NFC champions. Beat the Patriots, and Jeffery will have an ironic postscript to the Super Bowl promise — “I guarantee we will win the Super Bowl next year,” he said — made after the Bears’ 2016 finale.
“He made his guarantee that he was going to win the Super Bowl,” Bears running back Jordan Howard said. “He didn’t say what team. He made it to the Super Bowl. Now he’s gotta win.”
Howard spent time with Jeffery on Wednesday night and was tickled about how excited Jeffery was.
“I’m definitely happy for him,” he said.
Once knocked for missing games with soft-tissue injuries — or, in 2016, a four-game PED suspension — Jeffery has started every game this season.
He had 57 receptions for 789 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season — good numbers but not elite — before catching two touchdown passes in the Eagles’ NFC Championship Game victory against the Vikings. In the two playoff games, he had nine catches for 146 yards.
Jeffery said he’s “still the same Alshon” that he was during his time with the Bears. Wearing sunglasses indoors for the interview session at Mall of America, Jeffery still doesn’t like talking about himself — a problem during Super Bowl-week craziness.
“I think my advice is, ‘Man, can’t we cut all this out and just play football?’ ” he said. “I’m a guy that just wishes we coulda stayed in Philly, just practiced in Philly and stuck to that routine and come out here Friday or Saturday.”
Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore understands. Like his South Carolina teammate from 2009 to 2011, Gilmore prefers to skip the hype.
“We don’t really talk much,” said Gilmore, a Bears free-agent target last offseason. “But we try to handle our business on the field.
“You have to be great that day. You have to be better. You have to fight every play. It’s the Super Bowl, so you’ve got to give it all you got.”
After practicing against each other in college, Gil-more will face Jeffery for the first time — and likely cover him often.
He spent last offseason talking to Jeffery about where each of them would end up on the free-agent market. Sunday, Gilmore said, was the conclusion of each player’s plan.
“I guess that’s why we picked where we wanted to go,” he said.
Not that Jeffery had any regrets about his decision.
“That’s what we play this game for,” Jeffery said. “To win championships.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.