Teams that should target free agent WR Alshon Jeffery

John Breitenbach looks at which teams should open their pocketbooks for WR Alshon Jeffery, PFF's highest-graded 2016 free agent.

| 1 year ago
(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

Teams that should target free agent WR Alshon Jeffery

Alshon Jeffery is by far the most talented offensive player set to hit the market this offseason. He finished the year with a 94.2 overall grade (1–100 scale), behind only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones among wide receivers. If Jeffery had stayed healthy throughout the year, he quite possibly could have challenged Brown’s record-setting season.

The Bears will be desperate to keep hold of their most talented playmaker, with their offensive coordinator already departed for the head coaching vacancy in Miami. After Brandon Marshall skipped town last offseason, the Bears need to retain their leading wideout regardless of the financial implications, especially considering the scarcity of alternative options. Scrolling through our 2016 free agency tracker, it’s quickly obvious that Jeffery is the only unrestricted free agent WR with an overall grade above 80.0 set to shake free.

With the WR market fairly dry, however, it’s possible another team could go big for Jeffery—beyond what Chicago is willing to spend for a player that missed seven games in 2015. Before we dive into those possible team’s, let’s review Jeffery’s year.

Jeffery’s season in context

Despite taking the field for just 516 snaps in 2015, Jeffery recorded PFF’s seventh-best pure receiving grade. In new our new grading system (0-100 scale), which accounts for playing time, the Bears’ wideout finished with a 94.5 grade, only just behind Julio Jones (94.6) and Antonio Brown (96.5). Jeffery caught 54 passes for 807 yards and four touchdowns.

While he’s unlikely to run away from defensive backs (four broken tackles) he has reliable hands (just two drops) and is an unquestioned monster when the ball is in the air. Chicago had a lot of success calling back-shoulder fades for Cutler; those plays are almost impossible to stop when executed correctly. Jeffery’s catch radius is so large and he uses his frame so effectively to box out defensive backs that 20-yard completions seemed routine between the pair. The Bears could run a shot play with little risk, and Cutler could adjust depending on the coverage. Simply put, few NFL receivers are capable of dominating games the way Jeffery can.

Bears’ options

Short of praying sophomore Kevin White is a stud, the Bears really have little option but to offer Jeffery carte blanche in negotiations. White failed to register a single snap as a rookie after suffering a fractured shin. With White and Jeffery initially sidelined, Marquess Wilson recorded a team-high 650 snaps at the position. He ended the year as our 66th-ranked wide receiver, recording a 69.8 grade.

Opposite him, the Bears were forced to use Marc Mariani more frequently. The slot receiver and specialist returner actually flashed some promise with the added opportunity, finishing the year with a 74.0 grade. He’s also set to become a free agent as well, however. Mariani certainly offered more than Eddie Royal (52.5 grade) and Josh Bellamy (61.0), who both struggled.

Thankfully, for the Bears they have a projected $50 million in cap room, likely enough to retain Jeffery. He’ll  be looking for a deal similar to those handed to Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant (five years, $70 million, $35 million guaranteed).

Outside interest

Should something unforeseen happen and Jeffery ends up hitting the market, most NFL front offices will likely be having a conversation. A few teams stand out as more likely than others:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs have almost as much projected cap space as the Bears, and that’s before making a decision on Vincent Jackson and the $12 million he’s owed in 2016. Jason Licht carried on the tradition of targeting physically dominant prototypes at the wide receiver position by drafting Mike Evans with his first draft pick as GM (seventh overall). Expect the Bucs to make a hard play at Jeffery if he hits free agency.

Tennessee Titans

Marcus Mariota had a solid rookie season, but the Titans’ offense struggled mightily in 2015. The overall unit needs a boost, especially at wide receiver, where Harry Douglas (54.8) took the majority of snaps. Kendall Wright was slowed by injuries, while Justin Hunter had another disappointing campaign and is starting to look like he might be a bust. Dorial Green-Beckham (73.6) had a solid rookie year but can’t be relied upon. The Titans need serious investment on the offensive side of the ball if Marcus Mariota is to succeed.

Cleveland Browns

Assuming the No. 2 overall pick is invested in a QB, the Browns will need to provide weapons for their young signal-caller. None of the Browns’ wide receivers who played more than 200 snaps graded positively in 2015. In fact, the unit combined for a -23.9 cumulative grade (0.0 is considered average). Hue Jackson needs a vertical threat on the perimeter to manipulate a numbers advantage in the run game, and the Browns have the cap space to make it happen.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Dan Morgan

    Mute point. Bears will either sign him to an extension or franchise him. The second seems most likely as Jeffery is coming off an injury prone season and Ryan Pace likes the one year prove-it type of contract. He will never hit the open FA market.

    • Vitor

      Yeah, this is a no brainer franchise tag case. Take the time to see if Jeffery can stay healthy and if White can step up

    • ross

      MUTE point? lol

      • crosseyedlemon

        It’s only a mute point if Jeffery is content to be a playoff spectator for the next 2-3 years as it will take at least that long for the Bears to shore up other weaknesses.

      • Cluckern

        Maybe Dan Morgan is a pseudonym for Tony Reali

      • Tom

        No, it’s moot. Look it up.

        • jason witten

          The guy edited his comment to say moot.

      • Grammar police

        What a great human being you are Ross. Pointing and laughing at someone’s perceived mistake only to be wrong, maybe you should make some more mute points.

    • Joel Munson

      Never say never friend. Sorry for your loss. He will be enjoyed in greener pastures.

  • Mnstorm99

    Moot point, maybe. But, if he hits free agency, I really think the Vikings need to drop Wallace’s contract and go after Jeffery hard.

    • NAJ

      Exactly what i was thinking for us. He’s exactly what we’re missing on offence besides O-lineman who can actually block

      • Mnstorm99

        Teddy doesn’t need a deep threat, he just needs guys who can get open.

        • Mark Erickson

          Dropping Wallace is probably the most likely situation, as he’s guaranteed zero money for the final 2 years of his contract. Trade would be great, but only a team with money to burn and few options at WR is going to want to spend close to 12 mill in 2016 to see if they can get anything out of him, even then the level-headed franchises know better than to bother with his overpaid ass. At least Minnesota can walk away from him at this point with no baggage.

          • Mnstorm99

            Yeah, based on the facts that it costs the team nothing to get out of his contract and he is due $11.5m, I would like them to move on. Bridgewater and Wallace do not compliment each other, and his money would be better spent elsewhere on the roster. Jeffery is pretty much completely out of the question, but I see the Vikes tied to Laquon Treadwell in many mock drafts. I think Teddy can take better advantage of a bigger body that can run routes and fight for the ball than that of a speed guy like Wallace.
            I think I would like the Treadwell pick, and spend Wallace’s money on the O-Line.

          • Pats97

            Alshon isn’t just a deep threat. He can get open with ease and is basically open at all times with that body frame. He’s a very athletic WR and an elite talent at that position. This upcoming draft doesn’t look very good at WR. Treadwell is arguably the best talent at the position and he has major question marks. It’s very unlikely Treadwell even falls to the Vikings and if he doesn’t (which he most likely won’t), it doesn’t look like there is another elite talent at the WR spot. Vikings will absolutely cut Wallace and clear 11.5M to get their cap space over 31M. With that Wallace money + some more, go hard after Jeffery. Vikings won’t find anyone else near Jeffery’s skill level and he’ll be someone the defense has to account for at all times other than AP. Yes, O-line could use some help but lets not forget, Sullivan (who’s now a free agent) and Loadholt were done for the year. Not sure if Vikings will resign Sullivan because of the emergence of Berger or they might move one of them to a different position. With Loadholt, RT will be in great hands, Fusco, Berger and Harris were decent inside (or they can resign Sullivan or look at the free agency market). Kalil will be the biggest question mark at LT, he’s set to make 11M in the upcoming season but $0 in dead cap, so should be interesting to see what the Vikings do with him. Plus, if the Vikings get Jeffery they’ll still have another 20M to play around with. With that money they can still fix up the O-line (if they want), go after a safety, maybe look for a replacement Greenway. They don’t have to do all of that through free agency because they still have their 1st and 2nd round picks!

  • Youngblood

    How about the L.A. Rams?

  • Reag Forlife

    This is stupid, there is no team that needs a WR like Alshon Jeffery more than the
    Philadelphia Eagles.

  • Jake Mcgee from St.louis MO

    the greenbay packers need to pick this guy up really

  • Bears are cool

    Greenbay is gayyyyy