(670 The Score) After months away from the bargaining table with the Bears, top receiver Allen Robinson can walk into free agency with nearly all the leverage. It's just a matter of whether Chicago lets him leave.
The Bears and Robinson left off their contract negotiations in late September, still separated by several million dollars per year. The 27-year-old Robinson went out and produced a career-best 102 receptions in 2020, making it an even 200 catches over these last two seasons.
That production puts Robinson in line to achieve his goal of being paid like peers such as the Cowboys' Amari Cooper and the Chargers' Keenan Allen, who are earning $20 million annually. But before Robinson can enter free agency, the Bears still have a final say in the matter, as they hold the right to tender the franchise tag, which is projected to be worth $18 million for receivers in 2021, according to Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus. It's an option Robinson wouldn't exactly prefer.
"I think everybody knows a little bit on how I feel about that," Robinson said of the franchise tag.
"I plead the fifth on that."
The Bears could also tender the transition tag, which would allow Robinson to hit free agency and Chicago the right to match any offer he signs with another organization. But Robinson would likely draw at least $20 million annually in free agency, which is what the Bears resisted offering in the first place.
Robinson's contract situation is one of the biggest storylines of the Bears' offseason, as they lack proven receivers behind him.
Rookie Darnell Mooney, a fifth-round pick in 2020, showed he has a bright future ahead of him by posting 61 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns. He should be a key piece of the Bears moving forward, and there's a realistic chance he's one of just two receivers returning for them in 2021.
After punching Saints cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson in a game on Nov. 1, Bears receiver Javon Wims was warned that he was fortunate to not be released. Then in the playoffs, fellow Bears receiver Anthony Miller did the same to Gardner-Johnson and was also ejected. It's quite possible neither player is back with the Bears in 2021. Behind them on the depth chart is Riley Ridley, a fourth-round pick in 2019 who posted four catches this season and has 10 in his career. He has been active for just 10 of 32 regular-season games across two seasons.
The Bears should have attractive options at receiver with the No. 20 overall pick, but there are no guarantees in the NFL Draft. General manager Ryan Pace learned that the hard way when he selected Kevin White with the No. 7 overall pick in 2015 to replace Brandon Marshall. Two years later, the Bears had the worst receiving group in the league.
While the Bears prepare to reboot their struggling offense this offseason and perhaps take another big swing at the quarterback position, can they afford to come back without Robinson under contract? It's a question that hovers over their offseason.
The Bears may have already missed their chance for a long-term deal at the bargaining table, so they could be forced to either tag Robinson or let him walk.
"I do have a great fondness for this city and for the organization," Robinson said late in the season. "But unfortunately, in a situation like this, this isn't the only thing that matters.
"I personally feel like we had an opportunity to be able to get something done over the past 365 days."
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.