In 2013 and 2014, the Bears arguably had the best wide receiver combo in the NFL in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The duo combined for 335 receptions, 4,570 yards and 37 touchdowns in those two years alone.
Then new general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox shook up the organization after the disastrous tenure of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman, and Pace summarily sent Marshall packing for the New York Jets.
Two injury- and suspension-ravaged seasons later, Jeffery appears headed out the door, too, as Pace noted publicly that the team will not place the franchise tag on Jeffery and will allow him to hit free agency.
I can’t say I blame the decision to not tag Jeffery. Such a move would have saddled the Bears with a $17 million receiver who has played just two full seasons in his five-year career and hasn’t topped 1,000 yards since Marshall was lining up opposite him.
However, unless by some freak incident where Jeffery does not command the big bucks he’s expected to get on the open market and somehow comes back to Chicago, the Bears will have a drastically different 1-2 punch at wide receiver than they did in 2013-2014.
And not for the better.
It’s conceivable that when the Bears hit training camp in late July and August that the Bears could trot out as their No. 1 receiver third-year pro Kevin White, who has just four games of professional experience after missing all of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin and 12 games last year with a fractured left fibula.
As their No. 2 receiver, the Bears could turn to fellow third-year pro Cameron Meredith, an undrafted free agent in 2015 who showed some promise last season when thrust into the lineup following injuries to White and Eddie Royal.
And speaking of Royal, the Bears still have him under contract, and if he remains with the club, he’s actually an ideal slot receiver … when he stays healthy, which has been an anomaly for the majority of his career, specifically the past two years with the Bears.
The idea of trotting out White, Meredith and Royal scares me to death — only slightly less than Marquess Wilson, Josh Bellamy, and Daniel Braverman would instill.
But if the Bears do in fact sever ties with Jeffery, and if they do cut ties with Jay Cutler, they would have some extra money to spend on the position.
The problem is that the free agent market isn’t ripe with playmakers. After Jeffery, the Bears would be looking at 30-year-old options such as Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, converted quarterback Terrelle Pryor, or underwhelming options like Kenny Britt and Kenny Stills.
The Bears could turn to the draft to select another young playmaker, but landing a good rookie receiver has been a daunting task for them.
Whatever the Bears do at the position, it all could be a moot point if they don’t address the quarterback position and bring in a guy who can get the receivers the ball.
After all that promise a few years ago with offensive playmakers like Cutler, Marshall, Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte, the Bears could regress all the way back into the 90s and 2000s with a quarterback carousel and pedestrian wide receivers, trying to rely on a game plan featuring three yards and a cloud of dust with Jordan Howard carrying the rock 30 times a game.