LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The “extend Allen Robinson” movement has largely receded from public view.
Despite an outpouring of support from fans and teammates in September, Robinson, 27, enters the Chicago Bears‘ Monday night home game against the Minnesota Vikings without the lucrative contract extension he covets.
“I think after Week 2 or Week 3, I was putting that [talk] behind me,” Robinson said. “It comes down to just playing. That’s the most important thing right now. It’s about playing, playing well, trying to help get this thing turned around. Again, unfortunately, we’re in the situation that we’re in. In this league, you are going to have obstacles and adversity and as a team; that’s what we’re facing. So for us, we could either pack it in or we could pick it up. … I’m going to try my best to help pick this thing up.
“But at the end of the day, I’m putting all that [contract talk] behind me. That’ll be talked about … [but] that’s none of my concern right now. So whatever that road is, when we get there, we get there.”
Robinson is the NFL’s 17th-highest-paid wide receiver, with an average annual salary of $14 million.
Even the most ardent Bears critics agree that Robinson has earned every penny of the three-year, $42 million ($25.2 million guaranteed) deal he signed with Chicago in March 2018.
The seven-year NFL veteran caught a career-high 98 passes for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns for one of the league’s worst offenses in 2019. In 2018, Robinson, though still not completely recovered from the season-ending knee injury he suffered in Week 1 of the 2017 season while with Jacksonville, tallied 55 receptions for 754 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games as Chicago went 12-4 and reached the playoffs.
In another season full of dysfunctional offense, Robinson tops the Bears with 57 catches for 712 yards through nine games in 2020.
So, why, exactly, have the Bears been reluctant to show Robinson the money?
Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, an ESPN NFL front-office insider, theorizes that Robinson might end up a victim of circumstance.
“What we saw or didn’t see at the trade deadline was a direct result of next year’s salary cap that reportedly could drop from $200 million to $175 million, and if that happens, there will be some really hard discussions,” Tannenbaum said.
The Bears, who sit roughly $10 million under the current salary cap, will be forced to shed notable contracts in order to reach next year’s cap threshold.
The same scene is expected to play out in the other 29 NFL cities.
At wide receiver, the 2020 franchise tag number was $17.865 million.
“With Allen Robinson, his market is going to get pushed down because of cap casualties at the receiver position — take someone like Philadelphia’s Alshon Jeffery or aging veteran players who won’t do as well,” Tannenbaum said. “A.J. Green won’t get tagged again, I think that is going to hurt Robinson’s market. I don’t think he will get tagged because I think the Bears will have more cost-effective options this year because of that.
“In terms of a dollar value, I would say somewhere around $12 [million], $13 [million], $14 million per year would be my walk-away because I just feel like I have options. I like him, I like his physicality, he’s been productive, but I think because of this weird environment, I think the Class of 2021 isn’t going to do well. There will be exceptions, but the market is going to be flooded with cap casualties, and we are going to see that permeate through all the different positions.”
Former Bears wide receiver Tom Waddle envisions a similar scenario.
“With the salary cap going down and [the Bears] not having a lot of flexibility, I can see a scenario where they don’t want to pay what he’s asking for and he doesn’t want to play for that team,” Waddle said.
“I’m a huge Allen Robinson fan. I think in terms of hands there are only a couple of guys that have better catch ability than him,” Waddle added. “He doesn’t have that extra gear where he is going to run away from people, but neither does Keenan Allen.”
Indeed, Robinson’s on-field ability compares favorably to Allen, 28, who signed a four-year extension with the Los Angeles Chargers that included $50 million in guarantees. Allen’s average annual salary of $20.025 million ranks behind only Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins ($27.250 million) and Atlanta’s Julio Jones ($22 million).
“Keenan Allen is not going to take the top off a defense, but he’s tremendously productive and a good route runner,” Waddle said. “When you look at Allen’s percentages in terms of being targeted versus receptions, it’s significantly better than Robinson’s percentage, but I think that’s a product of Robinson playing with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles.
“I don’t know if that’s an Allen Robinson problem; I think that’s more of a Bears quarterback accuracy problem.”
The Bears must ask themselves if they can stabilize the quarterback position next season without Robinson’s steady presence. Chicago also has to come to grips with where it sees itself in 2021. Do the Bears still fancy themselves as contenders, or is another rebuild in the cards if the franchise misses the postseason for the ninth time in 10 years?
Robinson’s contract saga might provide a glimpse at where this is all headed.
“I don’t think the Bears can afford to let Robinson go, given the lack of accomplished talent in the huddle,” Waddle said. “If the Bears’ defense wasn’t very good, you could make a case for blowing it up and just letting him go, but they’ve wasted this defense for three years and I still think it has another year or two left in them.
“If the cap was going to go up the way it normally does, I think you could justify giving Robinson a deal that is similar to [Keenan] Allen’s deal. But that’s not reality. This offense for the last 32 games is averaging less than 18 points per game. This isn’t a blip, this isn’t a rut, this is who they are. … I’m sure the Bears would love to keep Robinson in a long-term deal, but I don’t think they are going to reach his number.”