The Chicago Bears’ 2019 season was a disappointment. Looking forward, the 2020 season will be a pivotal one for players, coaches, and front office members alike. But before we get there, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into an offseason that could bring change at a variety of positions.
Today: Tight end
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
Trey Burton enters year three of a four-year deal worth $32 million signed in 2018, when he was believed to be the cure to what ails the Bears tight end position. Ben Braunecker and Adam Shaheen are also under contract. Both are lined up to wrap up the final season of their respective deals. Braunecker signed a two-year contract worth $2.7 million last offseason, while the 2020 league year represents the fourth (and final) year of Shaheen’s rookie deal.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
Bradley Sowell is on his way out after his transition from swing tackle to tight end was a dud. The Bears brought in J.P. Holtz on a waiver claim, and he had his moments as a tight end (and even some as a fullback). Holtz is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he can negotiate only with the Bears this offseason.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
The lack of production from the Bears’ collection of tight ends could be enough to push GM Ryan Pace to tear-down and rebuild the room from scratch. Should Pace opt to do that, he could clear a bit of salary cap wiggle room in the process.
Cutting Shaheen ($1,270,980) and Braunecker ($1.5 million) would create $2,770,980 in cap space. That doesn’t look like much, but it could be enough to land an upgrade for the depth. And because the Bears would be clearing out a pair of reserves, this move would likely be welcomed with open arms.
As for parting ways with Burton, that one doesn’t seem likely, nor reasonable. Sure, the Bears could cut ties with Burton and create another $1.05 million in cap space by doing so. But it would come with a projected dead money hit of $7.5 million. Burton is just one year removed from having a respectable first season with the Bears, so there is a case to be made that he deserves another shot with a clean slate to give it a go with a clean bill of health entering 2020.
Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
To illustrate how much the tight end position has been a revolving door of disappointment during the Pace era, here is a list of players who have suited up at the position since the start of the 2015 season (games played in parentheses):
- Ben Braunecker (47)
- Zach Miller (33)
- Daniel Brown (28)
- Adam Shaheen (27)
- Trey Burton (24)
- Dion Sims (22)
- Logan Paulsen (16)
- Khari Lee (16)
- J.P. Holtz (14)
- Martellus Bennett (11)
- Bradley Sowell (6)
- Jesper Horsted (6)
- Rob Housler (4)
- Greg Scruggs (3)
- Eric Saubert (2)
- MyCole Pruitt (2)
Sixteen players. So much disappointment.
After watching Mitch Trubisky post solid numbers when throwing to tight ends in 2018, then seeing the production from the group fall off a cliff in 2019, there’s no denying the importance of TEs in Matt Nagy’s offense. Fixing the tight ends room is a *MUST* for Pace and his front office partners. Upgrading the talent level in the room in order to maximize the offense should be a high priority.
Eric Ebron has hinted at being interested in joining Chicago. The No. 10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft was a Pro Bowler in 2018, but saw his production fall off with he Colts last season. Even still … Ebron would represent a better option compared to what the Bears trotted out last year. Austin Hooper is a two-time Pro Bowler who has posted the best years of his career over the last two seasons. Hooper should be at the top of any team’s wish list, but his deal is going to be an expensive one. Then again, it might be worth it to bring an impact pass-catcher to Chicago.
And let’s not overlook the options who could be available in the upcoming NFL Draft. Chicago met with Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney and Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins at the Senior Bowl. Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet has first-round potential, but could slip into the second round. Dayton’s Adam Trautman shouldn’t be overlooked just because his name is Adam and he happened to play his college ball at a non-football powerhouse in the state of Ohio. Frankly, you could throw virtual darts at a board full of mock drafts and hit at least one that projects the Bears selecting a tight end with one of their two second-round picks.
Much like its quarterback conundrum, Chicago would be wise to take multiple swings at getting an important position right. That means locating a free agent standout, as well as a top draft-eligible tight end to round out the room.