(670 The Score) When the Bears signed receiver Allen Robinson to a three-year deal in March 2018, they envisioned a long-term future together.
The Bears believed Robinson could once again be a top receiver after suffering a torn ACL the prior September. For his part, Robinson saw Chicago as a place he could prove himself for the rest of his career.
"In my eyes, I want to retire a Chicago Bear," Robinson said.
A little more than three years later, that doesn't seem likely.
Robinson and the Bears failed to reach a long-term deal ahead of the 3 p.m. deadline Thursday after the team placed the franchise tag on him in March. Just as they were when previous negotiations ended last September, the sides were far apart on a long-term deal. Robinson, who turns 28 in August, will play the 2021 season under the franchise tag and earn about $18 million in guaranteed money.
Barring an unforeseen development, Robinson is on a path to free agency next offseason — and perhaps signing a lucrative deal elsewhere.
Robinson's camp and the Bears haven’t negotiated in earnest on a new contract since last September, when discussions broke down. Robinson coveted in the range of $20 million annually, a market set by receiver peers like Amari Cooper of the Cowboys and Keenan Allen of the Chargers. The Bears were well short of that in their offer, topping out around $16 million annually.
Robinson hoped to have his contract future solidified in early 2020. The Bears signed safety Eddie Jackson to a long-term deal in early January 2020 but left Robinson waiting. A day after negotiations broke down in late September, the Bears signed running back Tarik Cohen to a three-year extension. Robinson’s party and the Bears never picked up discussions after that.
Robinson had limited leverage in those negotiations given the NFL’s salary cap was set to decrease considerably amid the pandemic. Coincidentally, the $18 million he’ll earn with the franchise tag in 2021 matches what receiver Kenny Golladay will receive annually in a four-year deal that he signed with the Giants days before Robinson signed his tender.
Robinson is on a path to becoming a free agent next spring as the league’s salary cap is expected to rise from $182.5 million in 2021 to nearly $209 million in 2022.
Having hauled in a combined 200 receptions across the last two seasons, Robinson could conceivably command more than $20 million annually on his next deal. It’s hard to imagine that coming in Chicago. The Bears could tender the franchise tag again on Robinson in 2022, but that would be costly and he certainly wouldn't be pleased by that.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy are among those in the organization who have often shared their admiration of Robinson, a beloved locker room fixture and their most important offensive player not named Justin Fields. But the Bears haven’t been willing to budge off their perceived value of Robinson’s market.
If they want, Robinson and the Bears can resume contract negotiations beginning in early January, two months before he'd be set to become an unrestricted free agent.
But it seems the window to negotiate in earnest closed well before Thursday afternoon.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.