Where will Alshon Jeffery’s contract rank?

With Jay Cutler signed, Brandon Marshall signed, and Matt Forte half way through a four-year contract, the Bears’ leaders, at least as the offense is concerned, appear to be locked up for the time being.

2014 should be free of contract disputes. But, sometime in the not too distant future, the team will have to pay their breakthrough performer of a season ago. The only question is how much.

Despite only being sophomore in the league, Alshon Jeffery transformed into of the most dominating and fun to watch wide receivers in 2013. The second round draft pick appears to be destined for greatness on a team that historically has lacked talent at the wide receiver position. Game after game the University of South Carolina product routinely imposed his will on whatever secondary stood across from him. The man twice broke the franchise record for receiving yards in a game in his first full season as a professional athlete.

Another year like ’13 and the Bears may be forced to pay the 24-year-old a year early. The only good news is that Chicago certainly won’t be the only franchise shelling out big money to young receivers.

Over the past few years, arguably no position has seen a greater influx of talent than wide receiver. With eight Pro Bowl appearances from players drafted since ’09 (tied for second most) wide receiver has become a hot commodity in the NFL with teams selecting multiple per draft to get maximum value out of the position.

Aside from the talent these young athletes clearly possess, two factors will lead to receivers’ price tags increasing throughout the league.

1)   Rule changes have given pass catchers more freedom than ever before to make an impact on the football field, causing the wide receiver to be one of the most important positions in today’s NFL.

2)   The NFL salary cap will increase to $133 million in 2014, nearly a ten million dollar increase in salary per team.

With the need there, and the resources now available to every franchise, the next two offseasons will serve as evidence as to just how valuable wideouts have become in the game today. Much attention has always been given to quarterbacks and their towering salary cap figures over the rest of the NFL. By 2016 the conversation may become quarterbacks, wide receivers, and then everyone else.

Free Agent 2015: Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant,  Jordy Nelson, Michael Crabtree, Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith, Wes Welker

Free Agent 2016: AJ Green, Julio Jones, Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Anquan Boldin, TY Hilton, Justin Blackmon 

Currently seven wide receivers average an annual pay of over ten million dollars, the most at any position besides quarterback. Also, keep in mind that Antonio Brown signed his contact after the 2011 season (69 catches/1,108 yards/2 TDs) and Percy Harvin signed his six-year deal with the Seahawks last offseason after a 9 game season with 62 catches for 677 yards and three TDs. While Harvin’s contract seems to be a fair price, Brown would likely sign for more today after shattering his career highs in 2013.

[Bears: Marshall contract]

In 2015, guys like Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas will surely get well over $10 million per season with, depending on their performance in 2014, Jordy Nelson, Michael Crabtree, Randall Cobb, and Torrey Smith each having a chance to eclipse that mark when they enter free agency.

In 2016, AJ Green and Julio Jones will each deserve a rich new contract extension and if Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon can get their character issues under control they will find themselves on that list as well. TY Hilton, though not quite being among the top tier free agents in ’16, will likely earn an extension similar to the one Antonio Brown received. That makes eleven receivers soon-to-be making close to ten million dollars a season, and that’s not even including Jeffrey.

While Jeffery is not quite at the elite status of Bryant, Thomas, Green, and Jones, he’s not far off either. By the time his contract is up, he’ll deserve to be one of the top paid wideouts looking for a new contract. In fact, if Jeffrey continues to shine in 2014, the Bears might want to look into signing him a year early as the price of receivers is only going up.