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Emma: Bears Have Made Message To Alshon Jeffery Loud And Clear

By Chris Emma--

(CBS) Throughout their brief but eventful tenures in Chicago, Bears coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace have laid out the expectations at Halas Hall. They certainly run a tight ship.

Perhaps the most important guideline in place from the Bears' leaders -- show up to work. Fox has won at every stop by building a culture, and that can't come to fruition if key players aren't with their team. Because of this, the writing may be on the wall for receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has been tendered the franchise tag.

Jeffery's future in Chicago may come into question if he doesn't join the team soon, beginning with OTAs in Lake Forest next week.

One year ago, Martellus Bennett missed OTAs, the first of Fox's tenure. This was the beginning of his end in Chicago, with the Bears trading the tight end to the Patriots for reasons that had nothing to do with production and everything to do with perceived commitment. The trade that was made this past March had become more of a likelihood 10 months earlier.

Jeffery is entering a season in which he can earn Dez Bryant or Julio Jones money with the Bears, but he could easily work his way out of town, too. Instead of joining the Bears for voluntary offseason workouts, Jeffery has trained in Florida. The Bears have made their sentiments clear.

"I wish he was here," Pace said. "It's voluntary. It is what it is."

Added Fox: "I've talked with Alshon, he understands how I feel."

Speaking last week, new Bears receivers coach Curtis Johnson told reporters that Jeffery promised he would be present for mandatory team activities. Still, it won't look good to Fox if Jeffery skips the voluntary drills.

Jeffery is coming off a disappointing 2015 season in which he missed seven games. When healthy, he was dominant, but that proved to be rare. Jeffery finished with 54 receptions for 807 yards and four touchdowns. The previous two seasons, he recorded a combined 174 catches on 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Back in late February when the Bears tendered the franchise tag on Jeffery, Pace expressed his desire to negotiate with the receiver. It also showed the Bears' acknowledgement of the health risk of locking in Jeffery.

"We continue to talk with his agency," Pace said before the draft in April. "It's still been cordial and productive."

Last season, Jeffery suffered soft-tissue injuries to four different muscles. His emphasis this offseason was to include identifying the cause and seeking a preventative measure, with the Bears offering their input and structure from afar.

The Bears won't be too pleased if Jeffery continues to skip team activities. Fox prefers his entire team to be present, putting aside personal interests to fight for a team cause. "Voluntary" carries a different meaning to Fox.

"We all wish Alshon was here," Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "We're in communication with him. He knows how we feel about the situation and him."

Entering his first season leading the Bears' offense, Loggains needs Jeffery to be a force. The unit faces enough questions -- at running back, tight end, tackle -- and needs its top receiver to perform as such.

Ultimately, Jeffery will be judged by his performance in a pivotal season. Should a long-term contract not come to fruition by the July 15 deadline that comes with the franchise tag, he must stay healthy and produce during this prove-it season.

Jeffery can put aside questions of commitment by showing up next week for OTAs and joining his team. Fox would be pleased to see one of the Bears' most indispensable players is ready to play. Once that happens, he must put aside contract concerns and come prepared to work.

After all, the Bears have made their message to Jeffery loud and clear. They want him working at Halas Hall.

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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