The hottest topic surrounding the Chicago Bears off-season was wide receiver Alshon Jeffery’s absence from voluntary workouts. Jeffery decided it was best to work out in Florida, like he has in years past, rather than be with the team.
Many criticized the move by Jeffery, who could play the 2016 season under the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t worked out before July 15. On Tuesday, Jeffery defended his decision to be in Florida to prepare for the upcoming season.
“Me and my agent talked about it and felt it was best for me to train somewhere else,” Jeffery said. “I just felt it was the best situation for me.”
The 26-year-old receiver is entering his entering his fifth season in the NFL after being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He showed signs last season of being a promising No. 1 receiver but the first year he took on that role was plagued by injuries. In 2015, he played just nine games and ended the season on IR.
Jeffery missed seven games with hamstring, calf and groin injuries last year. The soft-tissue injuries are a reason for concern but Jeffery says injuries will happen and are generally tough to avoid.
“It’s a part of the game. There’s a 99 percent chance you’re going to get hurt,” Jeffery said. “So no matter what happens at some point in time everybody in the NFL is going to get hurt. So it doesn’t matter what you’re going through or how you train, you’re going to get hurt.”
Head coach John Fox didn’t seem too concerned with Jeffery’s absence and downplayed it to the media. Fox was just happy to see number 17 back with the team.
“I kind of look at the glass half full,” Fox said. “It's good to have him here and he looks in good shape, he looks ready to roll and obviously we didn't take it to the limit the first day back, but I thought he looked good.”
While many believe tension is building between Jeffery and the organization, he did hang out with Fox recently at a Chicago Cubs game. Fox described the encounter as a good one.
“I happened to be at the game with my family that day and he (Jeffery) sat a couple rows away from me,” Fox said. “It was good to see him, good to catch up, he looked great and looked like he was in good spirits.”
Last season the Bears offense used a revolving door at the receiver position due to several injuries on the unit. That forced quarterback Jay Cutler to play with fourth and fifth string receivers at times during the year.
With Jeffery returning and a healthy Kevin White on the field, the Bears receiving corps should finally be intact going into training camp. The two were on the field together today for the first time since practicing late in 2015. Cutler knows what Jeffery can do, so he doesn’t have to push him as much in practice.
“Alshon is a quiet guy. He keeps to himself,” Cutler said. “I don’t say much to him out there because I know that he’s hard on himself. He gives us everything he has when he can go. I just try to encourage him and make sure that he knows what he’s going to do and he kind of does his thing.”
As the mandatory workouts wrap up this week, the big question going into training camp will be Jeffery’s contract situation. The two sides have until July 15th to strike a deal, or Jeffery will enter the season playing under the tag. The receiver reiterated that the goal is to be in Chicago on a long-term deal but it may not all be up to him.
“That’s the goal, but that’s between [GM Ryan] Pace and my agent,” Jeffery said. “That situation will take care of itself. I’m here to play football, and to focus on football.”
As for where he stands with the organization and the story line of the off-season, Jeffery made a key point that he is still under a contract.
“The team is always first. I’m on the Chicago Bears,” Jeffery said. “I’m still under contract. Whatever else happens that will take care of itself. Right now I’m just focusing on the Chicago Bears. I’m here.”