LAKE FOREST, Ill – The Jacksonville Jaguars’ refusal to use their franchise tag on wide receiver Allen Robinson might be the earliest litmus test for the free-agent recruiting powers of Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
If in fact Robinson reaches the open market -- Jacksonville holds exclusive negotiating rights until March 12 at 4 p.m. ET -- the Bears are bound to have some degree of interest.
Robinson, 24, played in just one game last year after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the Jags’ regular season opener, but he had productive campaigns in 2015-16 -- he caught a career-high 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns two seasons ago.
Though Robinson’s serious knee injury last year is a potential red flag, the Bears haven’t exactly shied away from signing free agents with medical concerns -- Markus Wheaton missed 13 games for the Steelers in 2016 before he joined the Bears last offseason.
Plus, the Bears have serious needs at wide receiver, where only one player (Kendall Wright) cracked the 50-catch barrier in 2017.
Money isn’t really an issue for the Bears, either. Chicago is already projected to have more than $67 million in salary cap space, and that’s before the club opens up an additional $9 million worth of room when quarterback Mike Glennon is released next week.
But the Bears had plenty of salary cap space last offseason, too.
And Chicago ended up with a free-agent class littered with busts.
The problem is that higher-profile free agents -- Robinson belongs in that class -- aren’t all that interested in signing with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010. In fact, the Bears have made only one postseason appearance since Super Bowl XLI and have finished dead last in the NFC North four consecutive seasons.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace has signed a couple of good free agents since 2015 -- defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and linebacker Danny Trevathan, although Trevathan’s availability is suspect -- but most of the sought-after players have stayed away.
Drafting Trubisky second overall last year was supposed to, among other things, change the perception about where the Bears offense is headed. There’s definitely been a philosophical change at Halas Hall since Jan. 1.
Gone is John Fox, the ultra-conservative, win-at-all-costs veteran head coach.
Replacing Fox is Matt Nagy, the young offensive mind, who, like Pace, thinks the Bears need to sling the ball around in order to win.
The quarterback holds the key to everything.
Pace believes Trubisky is a budding superstar, but the upcoming free-agency period will be a referendum on whether the rest of the league feels the same way.
For the Bears to truly turn it around, impending free agents like Robinson have to share the general manager's vision.