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