The first time Allen Robinson played in a walk year, he was unlucky. On the third snap of the Jaguars’ 2017 season, the receiver tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while catching a 17-yard pass. He wouldn’t play again for a year — and when he did, it was for the Bears.
The second time Robinson played in a walk year, he was dominant. In the final season of a three-year contract with the Bears, Robinson caught 102 passes last year, tied for the second-most in franchise history. His 1,250 yards were sixth-most in Bears annals.
Robinson’s reward: another walk year.
Predictably, the deadline for Robinson and the Bears to negotiate a long-term extension came and went Thursday afternoon with no action. Of the seven NFL players facing the deadline, only one — Panthers tackle Taylor Moton — signed an extension Thursday.
That leaves Robinson to play on the one-year, $17.9 million franchise tag this year — the receiver signed that tender in March — and unable to negotiate a new contract until the season is over. If at all.
The 27-year-old will become unrestricted free agent in March unless the Bears either give him the tag again — at about $21.5 million in 2022 — or finally agree to a long-term deal between the end of the season and the start of free agency.
Strapped for salary cap space, the Bears could have bought themselves some flexibility by signing Robinson to an extension at any point in the last year-and-a-half. The two sides disagreed on his value, though, even as the Chargers’ four-year, $80.1 million extension for receiver Keenan Allen — with $43 million guaranteed — set a reasonable blueprint in September.
Around the time of Allen’s deal, Robinson’s camp asked the Bears about — but stopped short of demanding — a trade.
The Bears could end up paying Robinson about $39.5 million over two years if they tag him again in 2022. Doing so has a cost: perhaps alienating a player who has done everything the Bears could have asked for in the three years since he signed. For that reason, among many, it’s baffling that that general manager Ryan Pace couldn’t find a way to reach an extension dating all the way back to January 2020.
Robinson has caught 255 passes for 3,151 yards in his Bears career and established himself as a leader on and off the field. The Bears are betting on Robinson continuing to be just that, rather than using his contract situation as a reason to be disruptive. Robinson said a month ago he would not hold out of training camp, which stats July 27, were he unable to reach an extension.
A franchise that has given extensions to safety Eddie Jackson, guard Cody Whitehair, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, running back Tarik Cohen, outside linebacker Mario Edwards and kicker Cairo Santos over the last two years — and could hand star Roquan Smith a new deal in the next month — has instead given Robinson something to prove in yet another walk year.
The receiver split his offseason between New York City, South Florida and the Chicago area, working on speed endurance, and trying, he said last month, to “turn some eight-yard catches into 12-yard catches.” He said he’s added muscle to his upper and lower body “so once we get late into the season, late into games, [I’m] still being able to be strong and make those plays.”
After catching six touchdowns last year — tight end Jimmy Graham had eight — Robinson said he’s been “honing in on what opponents are trying to do to us in the red zone, and how I can be better, and how I can assist my team more in the red zone when we do get down there.”
Do that in another contract year, and Robinson’s value will only go up.