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Forget hindsight, Bears lacked foresight with Alshon Jeffery decision

Alshon Jeffery has experienced a career revival with the Eagles this season. AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' biggest offseason blunder might not have been overpaying Mike Glennon, but allowing their best wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, to depart in free agency.

Both decisions are regrettable.

Glennon struggled so mightily that the Bears pulled the plug after just four regular-season starts, despite guaranteeing him $18.5 million.

The veteran quarterback ($12.5 million base salary next year) has almost no shot of coming back in 2018, which would make Glennon one of the Bears' worst one-and-done free-agent pickups ever.

But at least Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who's on the hook for the Glennon miscalculation, padded the quarterback depth chart with Mitchell Trubisky and Mark Sanchez.

The cupboard wasn't totally bare when Glennon bombed.

The same cannot be said about the Bears' approach at wide receiver. Jeffery's talent and productivity were light years ahead of any receiver on the team's roster when Pace let him walk.

Yes, the Bears lost wideouts Cameron Meredith (preseason) and Kevin White (Week 1) to season-ending injuries, but neither is on Jeffery's level.

Meredith has talent. He had a breakout season in 2016 (66 catches, 888 yards, four touchdowns), but Meredith - when healthy - is probably a second or third receiver on a playoff-caliber team.

White's been hurt since the moment Pace drafted him seventh overall in 2015.

The Bears' top receiver target in free agency -- Markus Wheaton -- played in three games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. Wheaton, whom Pace guaranteed $6 million in 2017, has one catch for 9 yards. He could also be one-and-done in Chicago.

Jeffery, 27, isn't in the same class as the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones or Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, but he's an upper-echeleon player and the best wide receiver drafted by the Bears since Curtis Conway in 1993.

Chicago's (3-7) loss -- predictably -- has been Philadelphia's (9-1) gain.

"Alshon, I tell you, he's a bright spot," Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson said on a Wednesday conference call. "When he came in here, he was eager to learn, eager to get better, get with Carson [Wentz] and throw. Carson was the same way with him, excited to get him in here. He's been a bright spot on offense. He works hard every single day. He doesn't complain. He doesn't come crawling into my offense and say he's not being targeted enough, or this and that, which sometimes receivers can do, especially premier guys."

Jeffery ended up leaving the Bears to sign a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Eagles, but Pederson made it sound like Jeffery is definitely in Philadelphia's long-term plans. He enters Sunday's game against his former team with 38 receptions for 567 yards and six touchdowns.

"Alshon's a guy that you'd love to have continue to work with Carson and have around, and I think it's a good dynamic to have and have that stability," Pederson said. "So even after this season, if things work out and we can retain him, it would be great for the chemistry of the offense and obviously those two guys working together in the future."

The Bears had reason to be wary of offering Jeffery a multiyear extension.

After Jeffery put up big numbers in 2013 and 2014, the former second-round draft pick was limited to just nine games in 2015 due to a variety of soft-tissue injuries. Jeffery also served a four-game suspension last season for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.

Much had been made of Jeffery's desire -- or lack thereof -- to stay in Chicago. Jeffery appeared frustrated at times last year as the Bears trotted out their three-headed quarterback monster of Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. And all the losing -- the Bears have been in the NFC North basement seemingly forever -- also wore on Jeffery, who last played for a winner as a rookie in 2012.

But remember, the Bears had the right to prevent Jeffery from testing the free-agent market by using another franchise tag.

Before you complain about Jeffery's projected cap figure under that scenario ($17.5 million), look at the salary-cap hits for the 2017 free-agent class: Glennon ($14 million), Wheaton ($5.25 million), Marcus Cooper ($5 million), Dion Sims ($5.3 million) and Quintin Demps ($4.245 million).

The Bears had plenty of space to tag Jeffery and still sign other free agents.

"Hindsight is always 20/20," Bears coach John Fox said on Wednesday. "That's pretty much known. He's a guy we liked. We did talk to him. It's not like we were not in the mix. A lot of times they have decisions in that as well."

With apologies to Fox, what the Bears needed here was some foresight.