A THROW­AWAY? NOT FOR THEM

WHAT­EVER 2020 SEA­SOn BRINGS, THERE’S MUCH ON THE LINE FOR THESE THREE BEARS IN THE last YEAR of their CON­TRACT

Chicago Sun-Times - - BEARS BEAT - BY PA­TRICK FIN­LEY pfin­ley@sun­times.com @patrick­fin­ley

Bears wide re­ceiver Allen Robin­son says he’s not wor­ried about the coron­avirus pan­demic and its inevitable blow to the NFL salary cap in 2021, when he’s sched­uled to be­come a free agent.

He knows other sports have it worse. He has talked with his sis­ter Ash­ley, the Detroit Tigers’ youth pro­grams and player re­la­tions man­ager, about the virus’ im­pact across base­ball.

“I don’t think that [we] as a whole in the NFL will go through any­thing like that,” he said in May. “As far as my con­tract, I don’t think [the pan­demic] has any ef­fect on it, nor do I have a con­cern of that hav­ing an ef­fect on it.”

But even as he main­tains a ve­neer of con­fi­dence, Robin­son must know this sea­son — even if trun­cated — will dic­tate his mar­ket value. That is, un­less he gets an ex­ten­sion done first.

Here’s a look at three Bears en­ter­ing their fi­nal con­tract year in 2020 and what’s at stake:

Allen Robin­son, WIDE RE­CEIVER

2020: $15 mil­lion cap hit in the last year of a three-year, $42 mil­lion deal.

THE LOW­DOWN: Robin­son was ec­static when the Cow­boys signed re­ceiver Amari Cooper to a five-year, $100 mil­lion deal in March. Robin­son won’t get that much, but his agent will try to get close.

Robin­son caught 98 balls for 1,147 yards last sea­son and was, quite sim­ply, one of the Bears’ best play­ers — and strong­est lock­er­room voices — on ei­ther side of the ball. He and the Bears ex­pressed mu­tual in­ter­est in a new deal this off­sea­son, but gen­eral man­ager Ryan Pace typ­i­cally awards such ex­ten­sions in the weeks be­fore the start of the reg­u­lar sea­son. That would be an im­pres­sive birth­day present for Robin­son, who turns 27 on Aug. 24.

“If some­thing gets done, some­thing gets done,” Robin­son said. “But at the end of the day, that’s left up to the Bears and my agent. But for me, per­son­ally, to be quite hon­est, I don’t re­ally con­cern my­self with that too much. I’m just look­ing for­ward to this 2020 sea­son. I’m def­i­nitely ex­cited for it. I’m def­i­nitely ready to get it go­ing. What­ever hap­pens, it hap­pens.”

ODDS HE’S A BEAR IN 2021: Good. Robin­son de­serves the ex­ten­sion, and Pace has al­ways pre­ferred re­ward­ing his own play­ers fi­nan­cially over look­ing else­where. Robin­son was prob­a­bly headed to­ward $50 mil­lion in guar­an­tees be­fore the coron­avirus. If NFL teams cry poor, he could play out his con­tract. But the Bears likely would give him the fran­chise tag in 2021 — even though it would be cost-pro­hib­i­tive and pre­vent them from us­ing the tag on some­one else, per­haps quar­ter­back Mitch Tru­bisky.

Mitch Tru­bisky, QUAR­TER­BACK

2020: $9.3 mil­lion cap hit in the last year of a four-year, $29 mil­lion deal.

THE LOW­DOWN: Tru­bisky wasn’t sur­prised when the Bears de­clined to pick up his 2021 op­tion, worth $24.8 mil­lion, in early May. “I kind of felt like I had it com­ing,” he said. Tru­bisky’s Bears ca­reer is on the line in 2020. He has to beat out Nick Foles, for whom the Bears gave up a fourth-round pick and $24 mil­lion over three years, and then play well enough to get paid like a starter.

Tru­bisky said he wants to stay in Chicago, but his plan is to “earn my next con­tract, wher­ever that is.” The pres­sure is on, but new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill La­zor said Tru­bisky’s con­tract sit­u­a­tion won’t change how the Bears pick a starter.

“I can tell you for cer­tain the de­ci­sion on the con­tract has zero ef­fect on my job or the way I ap­proach it,” La­zor said. “I’m sure that will come up. This is the NFL. That will be ad­dressed in the fu­ture, whether it’s through fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions, what­ever way . . . . I’m not say­ing we ig­nore it, but it doesn’t af­fect how I ap­proach Mitch. It doesn’t af­fect the way we coach him. It doesn’t af­fect the eval­u­a­tions. It is lit­er­ally a con­stant eval­u­a­tion of, ‘How does he op­er­ate? How does he think? What’s best for him?’ ”

ODDS HE’S A BEAR IN 2021: Not good. If Tru­bisky plays well — and given his per­for­mance last sea­son, that doesn’t seem likely — the Bears could give him the fran­chise tag for 2021 at roughly the same price as the fifth-year op­tion they turned down. Oth­er­wise, he’ll have to have a stand­out sea­son to be worth a long-term, starter-cal­iber con­tract.

There was a time when Pace de­fended Tru­bisky, his for­mer No. 2 over­all draft pick, at all costs. While the Bears would be thrilled to see Tru­bisky run away with the start­ing job, blind loy­alty ended with the Foles trade.

Tarik Co­hen, RUN­NING BACK

2020: $2.3 mil­lion cap hit in the last year of a four-year, $3 mil­lion deal.

THE LOW­DOWN: Co­hen will make more money this year than in his pre­vi­ous three sea­sons com­bined, thanks to the NFL’s “proven per­for­mance es­ca­la­tor,” which bumped his salary up from $735,000 based on play­ing time. And he has a chance to make even more in 2021 than in his en­tire ca­reer pre­vi­ously. To do so, he’ll have to post a bet­ter 2020 than 2019, when he set an NFL record for fewest yards per catch for any­one with more than 60 re­cep­tions.

“It’s def­i­nitely a mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor be­ing that this is the year,” he said. “I feel like I can’t put any pres­sure on no­body else. It’s all on me. That’s how I like to go about it.”

A “walk” year brings the best out of some play­ers. Oth­ers put too much pres­sure on them­selves.

“He and I have had some dis­cus­sions about [the con­tract year], and I don’t think that’s go­ing to be an is­sue at all,” run­ning backs coach Charles Lon­don said. “I know Tarik is ex­cited about this up­com­ing year.

We’re putting last year be­hind us, and we’re just go­ing to move for­ward. He knows that I’ve got his back and we’re go­ing to do what­ever we think’s best for Tarik as far as in the of­fense and what­ever that may en­tail . . . . He’s very mo­ti­vated to get out there and re­turn to his 2018 form.”

ODDS HE’S A BEAR IN 2021: 50/50. The in­dus­try re­wards only the up­per ech­e­lon of run­ning backs. But does it view Co­hen as a run­ning back or a slot re­ceiver/run­ning back/punt re­turner who fits the mod­ern game bet­ter than most?

Co­hen and sec­ond-year run­ning back David Mont­gomery prob­a­bly could co-ex­ist fi­nan­cially through 2022, when Mont­gomery’s rookie con­tract ends. Co­hen likely wouldn’t be able to land more than two guar­an­teed years on the open mar­ket any­way.

The Bears also will have to weigh his 2020 per­for­mance against that of Cor­dar­relle Pat­ter­son, the three-time Pro Bowl spe­cial­teams ace who is four years older than Co­hen and whose con­tract ex­pires at the same time. Pay­ing both Co­hen (a punt re­turner) and Pat­ter­son (a kick re­turner) would be re­dun­dant un­less Co­hen re-emerges as the team’s sec­ond-best of­fen­sive weapon in 2020.

The Bears can’t let dy­namic of­fen­sive play­ers walk away. There’s no ques­tion Co­hen qual­i­fies as such, but 2020 will clar­ify whether he’s more than just a gad­get player.

“I just take it upon my­self — I want to win as a team,” Co­hen said. “I feel like if we win as a team, that is good for ev­ery­body’s in­di­vid­ual suc­cess.” ✶

“I can tell you for cer­tain the de­ci­sion on [MITCH TRU­BISKY’S] con­tract has zero ef­fect on my job or the way I ap­proach it.”

Bill La­zor, bears of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor

HAN­NAH FOSLIEN/GETTY IMAGES

An ex­ten­sion for re­ceiver Allen Robin­son seems to be a given, but noth­ing’s a given in 2020.

DY­LAN BUELL/GETTY IMAGES

Tarik Co­hen (right) will reap big fi­nan­cial re­wards if he plays bet­ter than he did last year, while Mitch Tru­bisky is fight­ing for his fu­ture as an NFL starter.

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