Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery figured to be one of the hottest free agents available had he hit the open market, but he will remain with the Chicago Bears after they placed the franchise tag on him as both sides try to reach a long-term agreement.
The Bears announced the move, noting that they can still negotiate a long-term contract with Jeffery until July 15.
Rand Getlin of NFL Network reported that an agreement between the Bears and Jeffery to keep the wideout in Chicago long-term won't happen "any time soon," adding that there's "still distance to cover."
The 26-year-old Jeffery is a former Pro Bowler who already has two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in just four NFL campaigns.
He almost certainly would have registered a third in 2015 if not for the fact he missed seven games due to injury. Even so, he still ended up with 54 receptions for 807 yards and four touchdowns.
From a per-game perspective, Jeffery enjoyed one of the best seasons in franchise history, per Zach Zaidman of the Bears Radio Network:
WR Alshon Jeffery was 8th in the NFL in receiving yards per game (89.7) last season, 4th-highest average in #Bears single-season history.— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) February 16, 2016
Even so, general manager Ryan Pace admitted Jeffery's inability to stay on the field consistently in 2015 would play a role in the Bears' decision-making regarding the wide receiver, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.
He was frustrated by his injuries. We were frustrated by his injuries. We've got to get a better grasp of that. Part of the evaluation of a player is his injuries and his availability. We'll take that into account. Going forward, we have a lot of confidence in our sports science team.
As seen in this statistical breakdown, courtesy of Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jeffery's production over the past few seasons compares favorably to several receivers who have recently signed contract extensions:
His numbers are especially close to Cincinnati Bengals wideout A.J. Green, who inked a four-year, $60 million deal in September 2015.
Jeffery is the team's primary weapon on offense with running back Matt Forte out of the picture, which made the franchise tag an obvious decision for the Bears.
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