Could Allen Robinson really be traded by the Chicago Bears? What we know, and why his contract is tricky

ByDan Graziano ESPN logo
Friday, September 18, 2020

Allen Robinson's contract situation is a tricky one, and not just for the usual reasons. The Chicago Bears' No. 1 wide receiver was in the news this week because he's frustrated with the state of contract negotiations with the team. Robinson is in the final year of the three-year, $42 million free-agent deal he signed with Chicago in 2018. As is often the case, he wants to stay, the team wants to keep him, but they just haven't been able to agree on the appropriate numbers.

But while these situations happen all the time in the NFL, Robinson's is complicated for a couple of unusual reasons. First, his next contract will be his third deal since being drafted in the second round in 2014, and teams are often leery of spending big on third contracts. Usually second contracts are the big one, coming off rookie deals, and unless it's for a star quarterback, anything the team gets after that is gravy.

Robinson, however, is unique in that his second contract was short. Coming off a 2017 season in Jacksonville in which he tore his ACL in the first game, Robinson got a three-year deal with Chicago instead of the more typical four-year or five-year deal free agents tend to get. It made sense on both ends. The team wanted to see him healthy, and since he believed he would be, he wanted to be able to hit free agency again before too much time had passed.

Robinson is also younger than the typical third-contract free agent. He turned 27 late last month and is thus still in his prime years. The Lions' Kenny Golladay, who's in the final year of his rookie contract and looking for his own big extension, turns 26 in November. Robinson is just slightly more than two months older than Golladay, hence his contention that he should be looked at as a second-contract guy.

So what are the numbers? Well, according to sources familiar with the situation, the Bears are looking at the recent Cooper Kuppextension with the Rams as their comparison, meaning they're in the $15 million-to-$16 million-per-year range. Robinson is thinking more along the lines of Odell Beckham Jr. or Tyreek Hill, who are in the $18 million-per-year range. Keenan Allen, age 28, just signed a third contract with the Chargers for four years and a reported $20 million per year, and don't think that's not on Robinson's mind here. Robinson (98 catches for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns) and Allen (104-1,199-6) had similar statistical lines a season ago, and Allen has also had injuries in his past.

Looming, as it often does in the team's favor, is the franchise tag, which Chicago could use to hold Robinson off the market next March if he doesn't sign. And with the salary cap expected to drop to $175 million as a result of lost 2020 revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, the franchise tag for wide receivers is projected to be around $15.7 million next year. It was $17.9 million this year. Not hard to see how each side got to its proposed numbers when you look at it that way.

Robinson doesn't want to be franchised. Most players don't. It's a wage-restriction device that prevents many of the league's best players from finding out exactly how much the market believes they're worth. It also only guarantees them one year in a sport in which they're perpetually one injury away from the end of a career. If Robinson were to tell the Bears he wouldn't play on the franchise tag, the $42 million he has made over the past three years certainly supports the legitimacy of such a threat.

Of course, free agency is no guarantee either. The reduced salary cap will have an impact on what players can get on the open market next spring, as potentially could a deep class of draft wide receivers. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects five wide receivers in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft and says one or two more could get into that discussion, along with what he calls "a solid group of second-rounders." Teams looking for receiver help could, if they see depth in the draft, opt to spend elsewhere in free agency.

So, how does this turn out? Robinson's preference, by all accounts, is to do an extension with the Bears and stay in Chicago. But if they don't want to pay him what he believes he's worth, sources say he has raised the idea of the Bears trading him to another team that will -- or at least one where he might be able to put up more impressive numbers in advance of free agency. Robinson and his agent have not formally requested permission to speak to other teams about trades, but the negotiations have reached the point in which Robinson is frustrated and wondering if that might be the best option.

Robinson is eminently tradeable. He's earning $10.9 million in salary this year. If a team acquired him halfway through the season, he'd cost it only $5.45 million against the salary cap. He is a young asset who could help receiver-needy contenders in places like San Francisco, Baltimore, New England and Philadelphia, just to name a few. (I'm not ignoring the Packers, I promise. I just don't imagine the Bears trading him to a division rival.) Should he end up someplace else, they might not even need to extend him to keep him happy. Not if playing there could potentially help him on the free-agent market next spring.

Robinson is closely watching the situations with Golladay in Detroit and Chris Godwin in Tampa Bay. Each of those star wideouts is in the final year of his rookie deal and looking for an extension. Should one or both of them get to Beckham/Hill numbers, it could help Robinson's case. Should they come in at Kupp level, it would not. The trade deadline is still more than six weeks away -- Tuesday, Nov. 3 -- so there's time for all of this to sort itself out. But in the case of Robinson and the Bears, there are complicating factors that other situations like this don't always have.

The rest of the potential wide receiver trade market

If Robinson ends up on the trade market, he might not be the only option for receiver-needy teams. Carolina's Curtis Samuel, Cincinnati's A.J. Green and John Ross, Jacksonville's Dede Westbrook, Houston's Will Fuller, Indianapolis' T.Y. Hilton and Tennessee's Corey Davis are all interesting players in the final years of their contracts whose teams have depth and other options at the position.

Their availability could depend on how their teams' various seasons shake out, but those are just some names to watch on expiring deals. Cleveland'sOdell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landryaren't on expiring deals, but if the Browns collapse and it gets ugly there, you'll hear their names brought up as well.

Two more notes on my mind this week:

Still the same Cam Newton

Norv Turner was the Carolina Panthers'offensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019. He felt quarterback Cam Newton was playing well before his injury in 2018 and was looking forward to building on that before Newton got hurt early last season. But based on his experience coaching Newton, Turner wasn't among those surprised that the marriage between Newton and Patriots coach Bill Belichick is going well so far.

"Cam wants to be a good player, and if he understands that the things you're telling him will help him be a good player, then he's all-in," Turner said in a phone interview last week. "You know, Cam, because he dresses the way he does in press conferences and all that, people think of him as being something he's not. He's an all-in guy. He's going to do it the way you want him to do it. And if you don't realize that, all you have to do is hear the way the players talk about him, which is nothing but respect. I wouldn't bet against him or Belichick."

Watch out in Washington

More than one scout to whom I spoke this week brought up the Washington Football Team's front seven as an underreported Week 1 story. The focus was on the collapse by the banged-up Eagles, but there's some thought that they won't be the last team to struggle in the second half of games against Jack Del Rio's defense this season.

Washington has drafted a defensive lineman in the first round in each of the past four drafts --Jonathan Allen in 2017, Daron Payne in 2018, Montez Sweat in 2019 and Chase Young, who might be the best of them all, in April. Add in 2011 first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan and you have five first-round linemen in the same defense.

"They can bring them in waves," one NFC scout said. "The talent they have, if you can keep everybody fresh, it's going to show up late in games."

The concern in Washington is on the offensive side of the ball, where second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins & Co. probably need at least a year of development behind a work-in-progress offensive line. But don't be surprised if the defense keeps them in enough games that, even if they aren't a contender themselves, they're a tough team for the contenders to play.

Related Video