With a franchise quarterback in place, theoretically excellent defensive continuity, a new coaching staff taking over, and plenty of cap space to work with, the Bears will have the need and ability to be major players when free agency opens up on March 12. And it’s no surprise an area of significant need will be the receiving corps, where only question marks are available internally to return in 2018. Cam Meredith (restricted free agent) is coming back from ACL surgery, Kevin White was injured again, and Markus Wheaton was a total non-factor.
To that end, recovering Jacksonville wide receiver Allen Robinson (ACL tear) is set to be a free agent this March, and given his significant productivity in 2015 and 2016 (over 150 receptions, nearly 2,300 yards, 20 TDs), he figures to still be a highly-sought-after target for teams like the Bears. With a healthy recovery, Robinson could be effective almost right out of the gate as a plausible WR1*, hence he shows up sixth on NFL.com’s early free agent rankings.
… and for all those same reasons, it remains extremely unlikely that Robinson actually makes it to market. Sorry.
Jacksonville.com’s Ryan O’Halloran took a look at the Jaguars’ free agent decisions, and on Robinson, 24, it’s not a tough one: “Robinson was the Jaguars’ best receiver in 2015-16, reaching the Pro Bowl in ‘15 after having 1,400 yards receiving and a league-high 14 touchdowns. He makes quarterback Blake Bortles’ life easier because of his ability to out-athletic defenders downfield. Two weeks ago, Robinson said he expects to pass a physical when he signs with the Jaguars or another team in March. He may not be a No. 1 receiver, but he’s the Jaguars No. 1 receiver, which makes him a priority to re-sign.”
To that end, the expectation is a long-term deal will be in place by March, and if not, the Jaguars will simply use the franchise tag to hang onto Robinson for another year. The franchise number last year was $15.682 million at wide receiver.
The Jaguars might have a tougher call to make on Marqise Lee, who isn’t coming off surgery (though he did injure his ankle late in the year), but also doesn’t have nearly the upside of Robinson. Lee, 26, led the Jags in receptions this year after Robinson’s injury (56), and has netted over 1500 yards between 2016 and 2017, but O’Halloran’s bet is that Lee ultimately walks. With Robinson’s return, and youngsters Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole in the fold, Lee probably gets paid elsewhere.
Maybe he gets paid by the Bears? Lee was a second-round pick in 2014 and a Biletnikoff Award-winner and All-American at USC, so there’s some prospect pedigree and some possible untapped potential here. Lee will probably be among the top wide receivers available in the free agent class, and even if the Bears pluck a top wideout in the first round of the draft, they’re going to need to add externally to support Mitch Trubisky’s development (to say nothing of, you know, trying to win some games). A later-round wide receiver target in the draft is also a possibility, but counting on that guy to contribute significantly out of the gate is a stretch.
*(The Bears could pair Robinson with Cam Meredith, and have the best just-of-ACL-surgery combo in the league!)