The Chicago Bears’ 2020 season was essentially four seasons wrapped into one. Early season highs, mid-season lows, a Mitchell Trubisky tour, and a humbling ending put things into perspective.
Looking ahead, the 2021 offseason could very well dictate the long-term future of the franchise. GM Ryan Pace enters the final year of his contract. He needs to prove he can find a quarterback and unearth offensive skill players. And Head Coach Matt Nagy has two seasons remaining on his deal. But he might not make it to next year if he can’t show that his offense can work. But before we cross those bridges, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into a pivotal offseason for the Bears franchise.
Today: Tight ends
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
Cole Kmet is the only stone-cold lock to be back in the Bears’ tight ends room in 2021. The first of two second-round picks in 2021, Kmet was brought along slowly, only to overcome Jimmy Graham as TE1 by year’s end. All things considered, the arrow is pointing up for the Notre Dame product.
Jimmy Graham could return in 2021, as the free agent contract he signed last year includes a second year and a no-trade clause. Graham caught 50 passes and scored 8 touchdowns, proving to be a red-zone threat when the Bears’ offense was able to move the ball down the field. But because his snap count took a dive while Kmet’s was on the rise, I have my doubts if Graham will see a second season in Chicago.
J.P. Holtz saw just 87 offensive saps, but his212 special teams plays were sixth most on the team.
Darion Clark would’ve been a training camp body to watch, if only to see if he could be the next former college basketball player to claw his way onto a pro football roster. Clark is a developmental project who spent 2020 on Injured Reserve. If the Bears have a normal training camp in 2021, tracking his potential growth could be a fun sidebar.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
Demetrius Harris played a grand total of 215 snaps. That’s it.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
Because time is a flat circle, the Bears could cut a recent free-agent signing in a move that would create cap space, while also opening up a spot in the starting lineup. This year, that player is Jimmy Graham.
Cutting Graham would create $7 million in cap space at the cost of $3 million. But his departure would open a spot at the “U” tight end in the process. Using OTC’s cap calculator, I see that the post-June 1 cut designation isn’t an available option. That’s worth pointing out, especially since we’re looking for adventurous ways to clear more cap space for 2021.
Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com
WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING HERE?
Should the Bears decide on cutting Jimmy Graham, it will mark the third consecutive offseason in which they’ve got a free agent signing before the deal he signed expires. That’s not a good sign for Head Coach Matt Nagy, whose system needs a functional tight end to prosper. And it’s definitely a red flag for GM Ryan Pace, whose tight end signings and draft picks have been underwhelming across the board.
Big swings and bigger misses have led to a big mess in the Bears’ tight ends room.
THE FREE AGENT MARKET INCLUDES…
⇒ Hunter Henry
⇒ Kyle Rudolph
⇒ Jared Cook
⇒ Tyler Eifert
⇒ MyCole Pruitt
⇒ Jonnu Smith
⇒ Gerald Everett
SEVEN DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PROSPECTS
⇒ Kyle Pitts, Florida
⇒ Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
⇒ Brevin Jordan, Miami (Fla.)
⇒ Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame
⇒ Hunter Long, Boston College
⇒ Tre McKitty, Georgia
⇒ Matt Bushman, BYU
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
GM Ryan Pace has used two second-round draft picks and spent $33 million in guarantees to projected starters, so we shouldn’t be asking how the Bears can upgrade the position. And yet, the Bears enter 2021 with Cole Kmet at the top of the depth chart and question-marks elsewhere. In other words, even if I were ready to use free agency to address the position, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
Firstly, the Trey Burton ($18M guaranteed) and Dion Sims ($6M) signings serve as red flags against Pace. Secondly, picking Adam Shaheen in the second round is a demerit on Pace’s draft record. Thirdly, it also doubles as a mark against the developmental record of Head Coach Matt Nagy. The jury is still out on Cole Kmet, but his receiving of an increased work-load as the year progressed shows a sign of life. And if Jimmy Graham can play a role in luring Russell Wilson, then we might have to throw him a party. Or, at minimum, Pace might need to re-work Graham’s contract and get him an extension.
In conclusion, Pace is seven years into being the Bears’ GM and still can’t settle the tight ends room. And in short, that’s all sorts of bad.