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Bears WR Alshon Jeffery worthy of long-term investment

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Offensive stars Stafford, Jeffery get game balls (1:46)

ESPN's Jeff Dickerson and Michael Rothstein give game balls to QB Matthew Stafford, who led Detroit with 405 yards and four touchdowns, and WR Alshon Jeffery, who returned from a hamstring injury to provide the Bears a legitimate downfield threat. (1:46)

DETROIT -- The decision on Alshon Jeffery’s future is not a difficult one.

Jeffery’s performance in Detroit (eight receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown) reinforced his importance to the Bears organization.

An impending free agent, Jeffery could see his contract numbers soar if the Bears allow him to test the open market next spring. Free agency is all about supply and demand. If a receiver-needy team identifies Jeffery as the best available option, that club might be willing to overpay.

Jeffery isn’t in the same category as recently extended wideouts AJ Green, Julio Jones and Dez Bryant, but he definitely is in the same conversation as next-tier guys such as T.Y. Hilton, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

Keep in mind the Bears are expected to be flush with salary cap space in 2016. Giving Jeffery a lucrative but reasonable deal will not cripple the Bears’ ability to improve their roster.

At 25, Jeffery is unique for the Bears because of his big-play potential.

“If you watch the game, he gets us down the field,” Bears tailback Matt Forte said. “He is the guy who can stretch the ball down the field -- that downfield threat. We’ve been dinking and dunking a little bit when he wasn’t in there. Marquess Wilson was able to stretch the field a bit too. But Alshon being in there, he was able to catch the ball downfield a lot and open some things up for other guys too in the passing game. So they couldn’t just double him and the passing game goes away.”

The risk with Jeffery is his injury history. The former second-round pick has dealt with a variety of ailments since his rookie year in 2012.

Even so, Jeffery’s production speaks for itself. The game Sunday at Ford Field was his ninth 100-yard receiving game in the NFL. He is the fourth player in Bears' franchise history with 1,000 receiving yards in consecutive seasons. On two occasions in 2013 -- with 218 yards versus New Orleans and 249 yards against Minnesota -- Jeffery set the club’s single-game receiving record.

Theoretically, the Bears protected themselves at receiver when they selected Kevin White at No. 7 in the 2015 NFL draft. However, White is on the physically unable to perform list and could miss this entire season.

That said, White is an unproven commodity at this point. The Bears project great things for the West Virginia product, but until he proves it at the NFL level, do they want to take the chance of losing Jeffery to the highest bidder?

The Bears took a smart approach by waiting to extend veterans until the new regime is able to evaluate its personnel.

Now that Jeffery is healthy, how much longer do the Bears wait to address his long-term future? If Jeffery strings together multiple impact games, the Bears’ best course of action is to lock him up sooner rather than later.