The Bears Cut Recent Draft Picks Zachary Thomas, Khyiris Tonga, and Duke Shelley (UPDATES)

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The Bears Cut Recent Draft Picks Zachary Thomas, Khyiris Tonga, and Duke Shelley (UPDATES)

Chicago Bears

With all the roster movement happening, it feels like we’re re-living NFL Draft weekend all over again (all the way down to me working through an unpredicted illness while it was happening). And because so many new names are coming in, some familiar faces have to go out.

In corresponding moves following the addition of six players off waivers, the Chicago Bears are parting ways with three recent draft picks:

Cornerback Duke Shelley (2019), offensive lineman Zachary Thomas (2022), and defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (2021) are being moved off the roster.

Thomas was the most recent of the Bears’ draft picks to be shown the door. A sixth-round pick last April, Thomas had a chance to play his way into a reserve role (or even a starting gig if things fell in his favor). Perhaps he would’ve been in a position to continue working his way up the depth chart had Alex Leatherwood not made his way onto the waiver wire and into the Bears’ plans via waiver claim. There is a chance the Bears could re-add Thomas to the practice squad. Keep an eye out for that as this process develops.

Same for Tonga, who was the last player chosen in Ryan Pace’s final draft as Bears GM. Tonga might’ve been a 3-4 nose tackle by trade, but I thought there was a fit for him as an interior tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Part of me is surprised that a front office ushering in a youth movement kept 31-year-old Mike Pennel Jr. in favor of the 26-year-old Tonga. With that in mind, maybe a return to the practice squad is in the cards for Tonga. Or perhaps the Bears thought Pennel, who has more experience in the scheme, was a better fit. In any case, we’re discussing down-the-depth-chart defensive tackle options. Neither figures to change the Bears’ long-term fortunes.

Shelley was a sixth-round pick in 2019. The Kansas State product played 30 games (6 starts) in his three years with the Bears. In 2020, quarterbacks targeting him put up a 118.1 passer rating in 20 targets. A year later, those targets more than doubled to 43. Passers were still successful, putting up a 100.0 passer rating in those throws. Shelley had some interesting traits, but didn’t put enough quality tape for a new regime to keep him around.

Hey, somebody had to go in order to make room for all the new guys. And there are still roster moves to be made. So don’t think we’re at the end of this road just yet.

UPDATE 1: The Bears announced the rest of their corresponding moves to go with their six waiver claims. In addition to making the Shelley, Thomas, and Tonga cuts officially official, they have also:

  • Waived LB Caleb Johnson
  • Terminated the contract of LB Joe Thomas
  • Put WR Tajae Sharpe on IR

For what it’s worth, Sharpe can return in four weeks. That gives him some time to heal up from his injury. Even still … this leaves the Bears with just six receivers on their 53-player roster. Three of which (Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry) aren’t practicing because of their own injury issues. It makes me think there could be further moves to be made. I think I’ll be writing that previous sentence a lot this year as that roster churn just keeps going.

UPDATE 2: I stand corrected on Sharpe’s potential return from IR:

Also, it looks like another roster spot is bound to open up whenever N’Keal Harry goes on IR. He can be designated for return as soon as after Week 4 of the regular season. But let’s keep in mind that a November return is more realistic.



Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.