The Bears are using the most powerful tool at their disposal to keep receiver Allen Robinson under contract.
The organization is exercising the franchise tag on Robinson in 2021, keeping him in Chicago for approximately $18 million. The Bears tagged Robinson Tuesday as the 3 p.m. franchise tag deadline approached. The decision was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Bears later confirmed the news in a post on the team website.
The 27-year-old Robinson is coming off back-to-back 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons. Robinson signed a three-year contract with the Bears worth $42 million in 2018.
NFL teams are allowed to use the franchise tag to lock up one player per year with an expiring contract. A franchise tag contract is for one year under a pre-determined salary, which varies based on the player’s position. The salary amount is either the average salary of the top five highest-paid players at that position or 120% of what the tagged player made the previous year, whichever is higher.
From here, the Bears have until July 15 to sign Robinson to a long-term extension or Robinson could play out the season on the one-year deal. The wild card scenario is if Robinson says he won’t play on a one-year deal. He could request a trade, but the Bears are not obligated to trade him. Robinson could hold out into training camp or even into the 2021 season. He could hold out through the season – it has been done before – and face a year with no pay.
That would be the most extreme of circumstances. Players who receive a franchise tag have until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season to sign their one-year tender. Notably, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after the Steelers used the franchise tag on him for the second consecutive year (teams can tag the same player up to three times).
In January, a day after the Bears lost to the New Orleans Saints in a Wild Card round playoff game, Robinson said that all options were on the table. He likes playing in Chicago and willingly signed with the Bears three years ago. That being said, Robinson has been vocal about his dislike for the franchise tag.
“Everybody knows a little bit on how I feel about that,” Robinson said about the franchise tag in his final media availability with the Bears on Jan. 11. “But I’m not going to really get into that right now.”
In an interview with Tyler Dunne from Go Long a few weeks ago, Robinson said he and his agent hadn’t heard from the Bears throughout January and much of February. Presumably that changed once the franchise tag window opened February 23. Robinson also spoke about his dislike for the franchise tag on the audio-only social media app Clubhouse in a discussion that also featured Green Bay safety Adrian Amos, Tampa Bay left tackle Donovan Smith and former NFL executive Andrew Brandt.
The Robinson saga dates back a year. Robinson and his camp have been pushing for an extension since the end of the 2019 season. The Bears held tight, even while offering big contracts to the likes of pass rusher Robert Quinn ($30 million guaranteed), running back Tarik Cohen ($9.5 million guaranteed) and linebacker Danny Trevathan ($13.6 million guaranteed).
Meanwhile, the bar for a top-level wide receiver has only gone up. Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins signed a two-year extension worth up to $54.5 million with $42.75 million guaranteed. Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen agreed to a four-year extension worth up to $80 million with $50 million guaranteed. Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp signed a five-year extension worth up to $105 million with $71.2 million guaranteed.
Translation: The going rate for a top receiver in the NFL is at least $20 million per year, and Robinson is almost certainly asking for at least that much. He has been one of the best receivers in the NFL and an integral part of the Bears offense, while playing with quarterbacks named Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles.
Make no mistake, the Bears have salary cap issues and this decision is a reflection of those. They are right up against the cap, as are many teams across the NFL, and the only quarterback on the roster right now is Foles. Robinson is one piece to a puzzle that has multiple moving parts right now.
The saga is sure to continue over the next few weeks and months as the July 15 deadline approaches for Robinson to sign his one-year franchise tag deal.