Alshon Jeffery's time in Chicago might be extended after all.

After staying away during voluntary practices, Jeffery finally arrived for mandatory minicamp last week. During his absence, the franchise-tagged receiver remained quiet, but became the topic of headlines and reports. The last time we checked in with an update on Jeffery, the possibility of a long-term deal with the Bears seemed nonexistent. Jeffery appeared to be heading toward a season spent playing under the franchise tag.

A new report, though, refutes that previous update. According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the Bears and Alshon Jeffery are still talking about a long-term deal, and an agreement might be reached before the July 15 deadline.

Here's what Fowler wrote on his Facebook page:

It's been widely assumed Alshon Jeffery will play on the one-year tag of $14.6 M, and though that might happen, I'm told the Bears and Jeffery have continued to talk about a long-term contract and a new deal is certainly possible. July 15 deadline gives plenty of time. If a deal happens, it will be late in process. Bears red-zone offense markedly better with a fully healthy Jeffery in 2014. He missed seven games last year and the team's RZ ranking dropped.

All of that makes sense. When teams and franchise-tagged stars negotiate, those talks tend to come down to the wire. A year ago, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas signed their deals on deadline day.

Without Jeffery last season, the Bears offense lacked a reliable playmaker. Obviously, he was missed everywhere on the field, including the red zone. Fansided's Erik Lambert recently calculated Cutler's numbers with and without Jeffery last year. Take a look at his calculations:

Cutler without Jeffery:

  • 239.8 yards per game
  • 1.33 touchdowns per game
  • 1 interception per game
  • 93.6 overall rating

Cutler with Jeffery:

  • 260 yards per game
  • 1.44 touchdowns per game
  • 0.55 interceptions per game
  • 96.4 overall rating

So, per Lambert, Cutler's interceptions were pretty much cut in half with Jeffery on the field. That seems important -- important enough for the Bears to keep Jeffery around for the long haul.

Jay Cutler's numbers are boosted when Alshon Jeffery is on the field. USATSI

One reason the Bears seemed hesitant to hand Jeffery a new deal stemmed from his injury woes last year, when Jeffery missed seven games with soft-tissue injuries. His absence from voluntary OTAs didn't help, because the team had no way of knowing how Jeffery would look, in terms of his conditioning, when he finally arrived.

Well, he arrived this past week and looked just fine, according to John Fox. Furthermore, Jeffery appeared in all 16 games during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, which makes his soft-tissue injuries more of an aberration than a norm.

I've said this before and I won't stop saying it: Letting Jeffery leave makes no sense for the Bears. They drafted and developed Jeffery into a top wideout. He's still only 26. The Bears, after trading away Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, and letting go of Matt Forte, are in no position to throw away players of Jeffery's caliber, even if they have last year's first-round pick, Kevin White, in their back pocket.

When he was on the field, Jeffery took on the form of a top-five recever.

In general, throwing away a top-five wideout doesn't seem smart. Keeping him around, on the other hand, makes too much sense.

Even if a long-term deal fails to materialize this offseason, the Bears would be foolish to let him walk in a year.