There are almost never concrete answers in a Pace press conference, but his comments on Robinson seemed to signal there’s no way they’ll let him leave.
Ryan Pace has two goals as Bears general manager: win a Super Bowl and reveal as little as possible in the rare moments when the NFL calendar forces him to take questions from the media.
So virtually everything Pace ever says is veiled and couched, whether he’s hedging on quarterbacks or trying to avoid a topic altogether. Reading between the lines, though, his comments Tuesday on free agent wide receiver Allen Robinson appeared to signal the Bears will do whatever is necessary to keep him.
While Robinson is amenable to that in the form of a contract extension, Pace seems willing to put the franchise tag on him — Robinson is on the record as hating that possibility — and live with the fallout of angering arguably his best player.
“We’ve got to look at it — obviously, we have a ton of respect for Allen, and then we have to do what’s best for the Bears, too,” Pace said. We consider everything. The league gives us the franchise tag as an option. That tool’s there for a reason. We haven’t made a firm decision on any of that yet, but we know we have that at our disposal.
“We love Allen Robinson. He’s a great player for us … and not just the player, but the teammate, the professional that he is. The franchise tag is an option for us. It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to use that, but we want to keep our good players and Allen is a good player for us.”
That’s as close as we’re going to get to Pace tipping his hand. And the good news for the Bears, regardless of Robinson’s inevitable frustration if they tag him, is that he has the sense to know there’s no way he can let Robinson walk out the door. It would instantly vaporize whatever credibility Pace has left and would strip a fledgling offense of its only reliable player — a player, by the way, who has been saying for a year and a half that he wants to be a Bear for the long haul.
Robinson put up 200 catches, 2,397 yards and 13 touchdowns while playing with Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles and Chase Daniel the last two seasons. His other big year was a 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown eruption while being paired with Blake Bortles on the 2015 Jaguars.
“A-Rob knows how much we love him,” coach Matt Nagy said.
That’s the problem, though. He knows precisely, to the dollar, how much they love him. And he thinks they should love him more.
Robinson is exactly what the Bears need: a player who produces no matter what’s going on around him. And he’s only 27.
That’s why Spotrac projects his market value contract at four years, $80.2 million, which is in line with the average salary he was seeking when he and the Bears hit an impasse in extension talks, a source said. The numbers haven’t been finalized yet, but Robinson’s franchise tag would likely cost the team $18 million.
That’s not nearly the long-term payday Robinson has earned with his play.
“I plead the 5th,” his agent, Brandon Parker, tweeted after Pace’s press conference.
Despite Robinson mounting a public campaign against the franchise tag over the past two months, Pace probably thinks he’ll get over it if the Bears go that route. He likely has little concern about Robinson making a public mess of this or holding out of training camp.
That’s the price Robinson pays for being the ultimate professional. Rather than being rewarded with a contract extension a year ago, the Bears took for granted, and were correct in assuming, that he would show up and do his job regardless. And now they have no hesitation betting on that again.