For NFL free agents, durability can often mean the difference between a long-term contract, and the stability that comes with it, and a short-lived career founded on one-year, prove-it deals.
Like OLB Lamarr Houston in 2014, the subject in the first of our Cap Casualty series, the Chicago Bears felt signing Eddie Royal in 2015 was a slam dunk in terms of reliability. He had missed more than four games only once his first eight NFL seasons and had missed just one game total his two seasons previous to signing in Chicago.
Royal played in just nine games for the Bears last season, and just 18 total the last two years, finishing the year on IR due to a toe injury suffered in mid-December. His two seasons in Chicago have been disappointing to say the least.
For the Bears, the receiving corps has some serious question marks going into the 2017 off-season. Alshon Jeffery, playing on the franchise tag in 2016, was able to stay healthy but had to serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs.
Second-year receiver Kevin White missed 12 games in 2016, a year after missing the entire 2015 season.
As it stands, the Bears don’t know what they have in White for next year, and they also may not have Royal on the roster either.
The 30-year-old Royal has a strong case for being a cap casualty going into the 2017 off-season.
He signed a three-year deal in 2015 worth $15 million. All of the guaranteed money has been paid and he’s due $5 million in 2017.
If the Bears are looking to save cap space, Royal could easily be one of the odd men out.
When signing Royal, the Bears had the hopes of making him a weapon out of the slot and reuniting him with Jay Cutler. The two played together in Denver for one season in 2008 and Royal finished with 91 receptions and 5 touchdowns.
The chemistry never redeveloped between the two, due in large part to Royal's inability to stay healthy, a recurring theme throughout his time with the Bears.
Royal has missed 14-of-32 games in his two seasons with the Bears and, bottom line, he just can’t stay healthy.
And when on the field, the production just isn’t there.
Royal finished the 2015 season with just 37 receptions and one touchdown. He followed that up with 33 receptions and two touchdowns in 2016.
While there’s still uncertainty with White and the possibility of Jeffery not returning next season, one could make a case for retaining a veteran like Royal.
But the emergence of another receiver made him a little more expendable.
Cameron Meredith broke out in his second year in the league, recording 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns. He became the go-to guy for the Bears down the stretch.
Meredith will enter training camp battling for a starting job and could be the top receiver if the team does not re-sign Jeffery.
With Meredith taking the next step it might make the Bears' decision to let go of Royal even easier.
Whatever happens with Royal, expect GM Ryan Pace to upgrade a position that was far from consistent in 2016.null