Next moves for Bears after tagging Alshon Jeffery

With Alshon Jeffery now under the non-exclusive franchise tag, Eric Eager revisits Chicago's offseason to-do list.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Next moves for Bears after tagging Alshon Jeffery

The Chicago Bears made official yesterday what many reported last week by placing the franchise tag on star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (94.2). Absent the ability to strike a long-term deal, placing the franchise tag on Jeffery was the right move, as he was not only the top wide receiver available on the free agent market, but he was the third-highest graded receiver in the league last season, trailing only Julio Jones (96.0) and Antonio Brown (96.5). The Bears missed Jeffery for seven full games last season, and he was limited for two others.

While securing Jeffery’s services for (at least) another year gives Bears fans some reassurance, the fact that Jeffery has missed so much time in the past underscores that this move needs to be just one in a collection of moves to give Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense the biggest chance to succeed in 2016. As colleague Thomas Maney wrote last week, the Bears have plenty of needs on the defensive side of the ball, and their offensive line leaves much to be desired. However, with the pending loss of running back Matt Forte (81.9), the unhappiness of tight end Martellus Bennett (72.0), the pending free agency of 2015 pleasant-surprise Zach Miller (81.0), and the unproven nature of presumed 2016 feature-back Jeremy Langford (67.8), the Bears would be well-served to consider adding pieces to their stable of offensive weapons. With more than $40 million in cap space even after the Jeffery move, the Bears are in a good position to accomplish such a task while still addressing other needs.

Re-signing Miller and assuaging Bennett would give the Bears a potent 1-2 punch at the tight end position, but would still leave them with the likes of Eddie Royal (52.5) and Marquess Wilson (69.8) to start at receiver alongside Jeffery. Royal averaged only 6.4 yards per catch last season (5.1 of them after the catch), which was worst among wide receivers in the league, and Wilson had just 1.24 yards per route run last season, with only one touchdown. Furthermore, Royal and Wilson had injury problems of their own, missing 12 combined games in 2015.

Young, effective, and relatively-cheap options such as Rishard Matthews (79.4), Marvin Jones (79.0), and/or Jermaine Kearse (76.8) would be solid additions to the Bears’ offense, and would be consistent with the intentional youth movement under second-year head coach Jon Fox. The emergence of 2015 top-pick Kevin White would very much help the offense, as would the acquisition of a role-playing running back like Bilal Powel (73.4) or the retention of Jacquizz Rodgers (70.3), who ended last season on injured reserve.

The tagging of Jeffery is a big, although not unexpected, blow to teams looking to better their receiving stables in free agency. Some options remain, however, including the aforementioned Matthews, Jones, and Kearse. Kearse and Matthews finished fourth and fifth, respectively, among wide receivers in quarterback rating on passes targeted in their direction, while Jones dropped only four of his 93 targets in 2015 (14th-best among receivers), and was able to score 10 touchdowns in 2013. Travis Benjamin (69.8) is also available, and adds a lot in the return game. The Bears could also seek a WR option in the draft.

Given the lack of high-end options available at the receiver position, as well as their own lack of depth at the position, the Bears made a good decision tagging Jeffery. In trying to build from a relatively-surprising 6-10 season (including a 5-3 road record), the Bears need to continue to search for offensive weapons to take pressure off of Jeffery, and to give Cutler and new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains the best chance to succeed in 2016.

| Analyst

Eric Eager joined Pro Football Focus in 2015. He is currently working on a number of analytics projects, primarily focused on the NFL.

  • Tim Edell

    With all the holes the Bears have on defense and with a strong need at both LT and at guard another WR is the last thing we will be looking at in FA. With Alshon and top 10 pick Kevin White on the outside, and Eddie Royal running his routes from his most productive slot position we are well stocked at WR. Marquess Wilson will be our 4th WR and we may use a 6th round pick ( as we have 3) or cheap FA to fill that last role. We definitely wont be spending the money that Marvin Jones will be asking for. I also highly doubt we bring back both Bennett, who the coaching staff is not happy with, and Miller unless his asking price comes down considerably from the rumored 4-5 million he was believed to be wanting. Our focus in the draft and FA will be 1) ILB 2) DE 3) LT 4) CB 5) S 6) OG

    • Eric

      There were multiple games last year where the Bears rolled out guys like Bellemy, Meredith and Mariani as their top three receivers. Royal’s average depth of catch last year was less than two yards, and he was hurt almost as much as Jeffery. Willson’s just a guy – not terrible but not a guy you count on. I think White gives them some hope, but he’s also a complete question mark. Tight end and running back could go either way. They certainly need all the positions you mentioned, but they need to score points consistently as well. Thanks for reading.

      • Tim Edell

        I understand your point.. But if we have the option of over paying Marvin Jones or Rishard Matthews 6 million a year or upgrading our defense we definitely lean defense. Thanks for reading.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Even when we had Marshall the WR position wasn’t the problem. It’s the guy who is suppose to be getting the passes to the receivers that’s the problem. How many new offensive coordinators are the Bears going to go through before they realize Cutler is too thick headed to listen to anyone?

  • dlund6cutler

    Bears need to do what they did last year by signing one high priced free agent (Pernell McPhee) and other low priced guy’s like Porter. This year that high priced guy could be Trevathan or Malik Jackson, then we can go out and draft Defense. I think if we want a player that will help us in the long run we draft Jaylon Smith, but if we want a player that can help us get to the playoffs next year we go with Reggie Ragland or Myles Jack. Personally I think we wont make the playoffs so i’d go with Smith.

    • crosseyedlemon

      GMs are hired now with the expectation that they will provide “immediate” results. They don’t have the luxury of drafting a player who might produce in the long. Only a first round QB is allowed time to develop and the window there is usually no more than 3 years.

  • ItsJustWerner

    Just for obvious reasons, do you think Mario Williams could be a target for the Bears for a prove-it or or otherwise deal? The guy has talent, had a down year, talked a little too openly about his dislike of how the Bills were playing. Would Fangio give him what he wants and just allow Williams to attack attack attack?

    • James Winslow

      Nah his prove deal would still be north of 8 million dollars.

  • themacabre

    Malik Jackson wants way too much money. Trevathan fills a need inside and is more affordable. Going WR early again makes no sense. Pittsburgh has proven you can get good WR in the middle of the draft. Bears need help at DE (Buckner), ILB (Jack or Ragland or Lee, would not touch J. Smith), CB, S, and OL. It appears the Bears are going to dump Bennett since he’s unhappy with his contract and is generally not a good team mate. Zach Miller can not be relied upon due to his injury history, but I would sign him. Fleener or D Allen are possible as a FA TEs.