Chicago's expected play for San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson might require a contract that significantly eclipses the five-year, $36.25 million deal signed Monday by Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, which included $19.5 million guaranteed, and $24 million over the first three years.
While some agents predict Jackson could be in line for a potential contract worth approximately $30 to $40 million guaranteed (which would pale in comparison to the deal signed by Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald worth $120 million over eight years, including nearly $50 million guaranteed), the receiver's representatives are content to let the free-agent market dictate his value. Multiple teams -- including the Bears, according to sources -- will be in contention to land Jackson. Jonathan Feinsod, one of Jackson's agents, refused to speculate on the receiver's potential worth, what he's seeking in terms of compensation, or what teams might be in the hunt.
Feinsod also declined comment on the state of negotiations with the San Diego Chargers, a team that has communicated a strong desire to bring back the receiver for 2012.
"Vincent Jackson is a free agent," Feinsod said. "There is no team that is being ruled out as of right now. So we'll just see what happens."
What transpires in Chicago's expected pursuit of Jackson should also go a long way toward revealing a glimmer of insight into perhaps the biggest wildcard of the entire situation: new Bears general manager Phil Emery. Because Emery hasn't yet put a body of work on record as a GM, it's difficult to determine his method of evaluating and securing talent. One talent evaluator who has worked with Emery doesn't expect the new Bears GM to spend in excess of $12 million per year for Jackson, and an AFC offensive coach echoed those sentiments, saying, "I don't see the Bears doing it, but [quarterback Jay] Cutler needs help."
Based on remarks made by former Emery colleagues, it would seem the new GM wouldn't be inclined to spend unnecessarily on Jackson, likely to be one of the most expensive acquisitions in free agency.
"I believe that Phil takes the whole picture into consideration, and he's a very calculated thinker," said Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who once worked alongside Emery, just weeks ago at the NFL Combine. "He's not one that's going to be flippant with his decisions."
If that's truly the case, surely Emery is considering the potential far-reaching ramifications of landing a player of Jackson's pedigree.
Several personnel evaluators have said that the receiver position is the most difficult position in which a free-agent acquisition might attain quick success because of the potential chemistry issues, and the fact that -- as one talent evaluator said -- "receivers already have diva personalities because they've been the man everywhere they've been," which could wreak havoc on even the strongest of locker rooms.
Although the Bears are expected to have more than $30 million in cap space available for 2012, it's important to remember the team is still looking to secure a long-term deal with running back Matt Forte, in addition to trying to sign some of its own free agents such as safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and quarterback Josh McCown. The contracts of eight notable players: linebacker Brian Urlacher, guards Chris Spencer, Lance Louis and Chris Williams, defensive tackle Henry Melton, receiver Johnny Knox and nickel corner D.J. Moore expire after the 2012 season. The following year, the contracts of quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs, receiver Henry Melton and kicker Robbie Gould are set to expire.
So although those potential extensions seem far off, a monster deal like what Jackson is poised to receive, could affect the team's ability to re-sign players and bolster the roster to accommodate for turnover and/or upgrades.
According to several agents, Johnson's deal might have increased Jackson's asking price. Interestingly, Johnson never tested the market before signing his deal, and isn't considered to be the same caliber of player as Jackson.
Feinsod declined to comment on how Johnson's deal could affect the market for Jackson.
While working for the Atlanta Falcons, Emery played a significant role in the team drafting Roddy White, and described the receiver's acquisition as one of the drafts he's most proud of as a personnel evaluator, saying, "I'm pretty proud that Roddy is a part of the Atlanta Falcons and has had success." Four years after the Falcons drafted White, it signed the receiver to a six-year, $48 million extension that contained $18.6 million guaranteed and $28 million over the first three years; a deal that despite being consummated three years ago was more lucrative than the contract Johnson signed.
White and Jackson are represented by the same agents -- Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod -- and surely the market for Jackson will bear more now than it did in 2009 for White.
"What we've tried to do in the past is get the best possible players whether through free agency or the draft," Bears coach Lovie Smith said from the NFL Combine. "Phil's background has probably been more through the draft and as a general rule, I think every team feels it likes to build through the draft. That's what we'll try to do, [but] you can't get everything you want or need through it."
Perhaps that's where Jackson enters the picture in free agency, set for next week. But surely, Emery and the Bears will be leery of overpaying.