Let me start off by saying this: There’s not really a logical reason to get rid of Alshon Jeffery. The Bears have a ton of cap space, so affording Jeffery’s contract demands are not an issue. They have this cap space primarily because they don’t have very much young talent. In particular, the Bears don’t have many young, talented players on non-rookie deals which, understandably, eat up a lot of cap space. And if you don’t have much young talent, then it is hard to justify letting the most proven talent on the team while he’s still in his prime.
That being said, I can see general manager Ryan Pace using the rationale that he wants a wide receiver corps that does more to create separation. Jeffery is just below a top tier receiver, in my opinion. He’s not in the Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, AJ Green class of wide receivers, but he is a true number-one. He’s big and fast enough. He is an absolute monster on 50/50 balls. But what he doesn’t do is create consistent separation in the short and intermediate part of the field.
There are also some lowkey signs out there that Pace and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains value an offense that features more quick passes, crossing routes, and getting the ball into receivers’ hands, allowing them to make plays after the catch.
The first of these signs are in Ryan Pace’s origins. Pace received his first NFL job from the New Orleans Saints, where they’ve typically sought after speedy receivers who can stretch the field and make big plays. Since Pace became the director of player personnel for the team in 2013, the Saints have draft Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and found Willie Snead as a UDFA. Granted, the latter two became Saints after Pace’s tenure with the Bears had started, but it’s clear he came from and helped develop a “type” in New Orleans.
2017 NFL Draft: Five first-round sleepers
cover32 Exclusive: Interview with NFL prospect, St. Francis safety, Lorenzo Jerome.
And while Jeffery is no stranger to big plays (career average of 15 yards per reception), he doesn’t have the speed and suddenness out of breaks to translate the downfield production to get the separation needed to make the quick passing game work. That is the key to the continuous success of the Saints’ offense in the Drew Brees era. The Saints have finished in the top 10 in receiving yards after catch (YAC) every year since 2010. They’ve finished in the top three in all but two of those years, where they finished 7th and 8th, respectively. They have also finished tops in passing yards most years, but still have a high YAC per reception average every year.
If the first sign is from Pace’s past, then the second sign can be seen by looking into the immediate future. If you see the Saints on that YAC leaderboard…..you can’t miss the Patriots right there with them. They’ve finished neck-and-neck in total YAC several times in the last seven seasons. And as they say, the NFL is a copycat league. No better offenses to copy than a five-time championship offense and a perennial league leader in passing yards. And who is being rumored as the Bears’ top offseason priority? None other than the Patriots’ backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo.
He fits in the mold of a leader of a YAC-focused offense: accurate, with good ball placement, a quick release. in that style of offense, it isn’t necessary to have a big arm. Ryan Pace and the Saints were rumored to have been big Garoppolo fans during the 2014 NFL Draft, so the connections are there.
A quick dig into the brief history of Pace as a general manager shows that the Bears have taken the most pre-draft interest in the last couple years to Carson Wentz in 2016 and Marcus Mariota in 2015. Both of those two look and play like prototypical West Coast offense QBs.
So, I think that, if the Bears do get rid of Jeffery, it isn’t necessarily an indictment on his ability as a player. I’m sure Pace and the Bears would welcome Jeffery back with open arms, but it would have to be at a price they are comfortable with. If he’s not an ideal fit in the offense the team wants to run, then they certainly aren’t going to pay him Dez Bryant type money to stick around. If Jeffery walks, look for Pace to seek out speed and/or elite route running ability at the receiver position.