The Chicago Bears never planned on placing the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery for two straight seasons.
"Us tagging him two years in a row really wasn’t an option for us," GM Ryan Pace said today at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. "These contract negotiations can be complicated. We’re at a point right now where this is kind of where it is. We’ll see how it plays out right now.”
The 2017 regular season starts on March 9 and it does not appear as if the Bears and Jeffery will come to an agreement on a long-term deal before then. In fact, Pace said it's necessary for Jeffery to talk with other teams so he can truly gauge his value on the open market.
"I think sometimes when you can’t come to a common ground with a player and an agent, sometimes it’s necessary to kind of test the market to determine that player’s value, and that’s really where we’re at," said Pace. "He’s a good player and we’ll see how it plays out. But I think there are certain instances where testing the market is a necessary part of the process.”
Pace said he'll be in constant contact with Jeffery's agent throughout the process."
“We’re constantly having dialogue with him and that’ll continue like it has pretty much always.”
In essence, Pace has made clear what he believes is Jeffery's value, and clearly his agent disagrees. Pace is obviously confident enough in his evaluation of Jeffery -- who has missed 11 games the past two seasons -- to risk losing him on the open market.
This scenario will play out in one of two ways.
The first will result in a different NFL team overpaying for Jeffery's services. The second will result in Jeffery seeing the reality of his situation, with no teams willing to break the bank for a player whose last good season was in 2014, and Jeffery returning to the Bears at a discounted rate.
The first option appears far more likely, yet that's a risk Pace is willing to take.
If Jeffery does sign elsewhere, Pace feels confident in his ability to replace him, either through the draft, free agency or both.
"Our free agent board is stacked. There are options in free agency. There are options in the draft. We’ve got to see how it plays out," Pace said. "We’ll know a lot more in the coming week. Right now that’s where it’s at. So we have plans in place for every one of these scenarios. I feel extremely prepared for this free agent process that we’re about to enter and it gives me confidence with all these different scenarios.
"Whatever happens [at receiver], whether it's Alshon or whatever it is, we're going to be improving at that position."