If affection for a player means anything, wide receiver Allen Robinson is wearing a Chicago Bears uniform again in 2021 and for the foreseeable future.
Of course, it's free agency and plenty of factors can enter into a player's departure from a team—like money, for one.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy were as vague as possible Tuesday on Robinson's future with the team in 2021, although the desire to keep him seems as strong as it's ever been. Again, Pace won't rule out using the franchise tag on keeping the team's leading receiver after his 102-catch season.
"I think we've got to look at it, obviously we have a ton of respect for Allen," Bears GM Ryan Pace said. "And then we have to do what’s best for the Bears, too. 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."
Robinson had said two weeks ago the team hadn't talked to his agent since last fall. To the Bears, this means nothing more than the way the negotations have gone to date. It means nothing about how they will go or how they might want to retain Robinson.
"Hey, we love Allen Robinson," Pace said. "He's a great player for us. We know that. And not just the player but the teammate, the professional that he is.
"Again, 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."
Robinson becomes a free agent March 17 at 3 p.m. unless the Bears tag him before the March 9 deadline for applying tags. Pace didn't want to go into whether there are on-going talks or plans to initiate those before deadlines. Playing on the tag would mean $18 million this year for Robinson if they didn't come to a contract agreement.
The Bears have had relatively good success at retaining players they want to keep. Alshon Jeffery in 2016 was an example of a franchised player who left. Pace's other experience with a tag was a transition tag on Kyle Fuller and the Bears matched a Green Bay offer for him in 2018. Usually it hasn't come to the tag, and the Bears reach an agreement.
"We have a history of extending our players, as (media) mentioned," Pace said. "We usually find a way to make that work. The proof is kind of in the pudding with that. And every one of them is different. Every one of them is personal, and that's why I'm sensitive, and I hope you guys understand, about talking about that in the media. But it's a process.
"It takes both sides to work through that, and every one of them is unique. I do like to lean on our history. I think Joey Laine does a great job of working through that and building relationships with those agents. Allen has a really good agent that we’ve worked with in the past, and it's a process. We're kind of going through that."
Bears coach Matt Nagy tried to step aside from any contract discussion, but would like his No. 1 receiving threat back without doubt.
"That process is what you try to do ultimately, right, is you try to get to that win-win in a perfect scenario," Nagy said of talks. "A-Rob knows how much we love him. A-Rob knows how much that me as a head coach and Ryan as a general manager, the importance that he brings to the city, to the organization, to his teammates, to all of us.
"And then now you run into, the things that he has done with us and the things that we have done for him, being able to help him be productive. Now you get to this point and this is where Ryan and (contract man) Joey (Laine) will do their thing and A-Rob and his agent (Brandon Parker) work together and you try to figure out, OK, where is it a win-win?"
This side of football hasn't been a real issue for Nagy in Chicago until now with the exception of Fuller's situation, one he inherited from the previous coaching regime.
"Again, I've had a million conversations with A-Rob in three years and he's well aware of what he means to all of us," Nagy said. "This is just the business side and we're not the only team in the NFL that's dealing with this right now."