The July 15 deadline (4 p.m. ET) for players with franchise tags to sign multi-year contracts has intensified the game of chicken between a handful of marquee players and their respective teams. Naturally, Super Bowl MVP Von Miller has received the bulk of the attention in the news cycle, but I'm closely monitoring the situation in Chicago between Alshon Jeffery and the Bears to see how the league values an ultra-talented WR1 with a bit of a one-dimensional game as a franchise player.
On Thursday, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Bears are not likely to strike a long-term deal with the 26-year-old wideout, as the two sides remain very far apart. NFL Media's Mike Garafolo previously reported that Chicago wants Jeffery at a price closer to the contract signed by Keenan Allen (around $11 million per year) than the franchise-tag number ($14.6 million in 2016).
We'll see how this plays out. But as we approach the deadline, I thought I'd place a few phone calls to league executives and get their thoughts on Jeffery.
Here's what I asked:
Is Jeffery a franchise player? Is he really worth the money as a WR1?
And here's what they told me:
AFC director of pro scouting: "Talented athlete as a big possession receiver. He would be a high-end WR2 in most places, but could be a WR1 in the right situation. He definitely makes plays as a jump-ball receiver and will get his catches, but I don't know if he can consistently deliver big plays. I like him, but don't love him as a WR1."
Former vice president of pro personnel for an NFC team: "He hasn't shown the league that he can be The Guy. I'm still in wait-and-see mode with him. Too many drops ... too many injuries. He hasn't played up to the level that his talent suggests. I need to see him play well as the focal point of the passing game before I can pay him big money."
NFC assistant director of pro personnel: "He's a game changer. He lacks great speed, but is a difference maker at the point of attack. His size, length and athleticism attacking the ball separates him from others. I don't believe he changes a franchise, but he is definitely a WR1, in my opinion."
NFC senior personnel executive: "No!!!!"
AFC director of pro scouting: "I like his size and ability to win 50-50 balls. Although I believe he is a significant piece, I don't believe he is an elite or franchise receiver."
There's no disputing Jeffery's potential as a WR1. He possesses the kind of size (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) and athleticism (36.5-inch vertical jump) that makes him a playmaker in the red zone (24 career touchdowns in four pro seasons), but he also has a knack for delivering explosive plays on downfield routes. Despite clocking a reported 4.48-second 40-yard dash prior to the draft, Jeffery is unable to separate consistently from coverage. Defenders hang in his hip pocket to undercut any short or intermediate route; the stifling coverage forces Jay Cutler to routinely toss up alley-oops in Jeffery's direction to see if the big-bodied pass catcher can come down with the grab in a crowd.
Studying Jeffery's All-22 Coaches Film, it's apparent to me that he lacks the speed and burst to create space on intermediate and deep routes. He wins on box-outs, as well as jump balls off back-shoulder fades along the boundary. Jeffery is a bit of a one-trick pony on the edge as a jump-ball specialist, but he has been a reliable option on intermediate routes outside the numbers. Now, that certainly makes him an asset as a WR1, but that doesn't necessarily make him a franchise player in today's game.
To me, franchise receivers must be able to dominate the game in a variety of ways. While Jeffery has racked up 12 100-yard games (including two 200-yard games) over the past three seasons, he is a "feast or famine" playmaker due to his limitations. He either comes down with a few 50-50 balls to make his mark on the game or is a non-factor on the perimeter. Without the speed or burst to consistently separate from defenders, Jeffery is unable to win with precise route-running skills. That's why he would struggle living up to expectations as a true franchise player.
In other words, I would not write a big check to Jeffery unless I was committed to building a supporting cast around him that would allow him to thrive. He needs to have a credible threat on the opposite side of the field to divert some of the defense's attention away from him. In addition, he would benefit from the presence of a speed receiver on the field to take the top off the defense, leaving more room for him to work the short and intermediate areas of the field. Remember, Jeffery enjoyed his best season in 2013 (89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns) with Brandon Marshall serving as the Bears' WR1 and commanding double coverage on critical downs.
Until Jeffery shows the football world that he can dominate opponents without the assistance of a sidekick, I would balk at paying him money that's significantly higher than the benchmarks set for low-end WR1s or high-end WR2s.