Addressing Tight End A Top Priority For Bears

By 670 The Score
(670 The Score) The Bears saw their worst-case scenario unfold at a pivotal position on offense in 2019. Diminished by injuries and inconsistencies, the tight end position devolved into a nearly nonexistent part of the offense.

Trey Burton was injured in August and never recovered during the regular season, Adam Shaheen was unproductive in his third year before being shut down and the depth pieces couldn't fill the void. Considering the backgrounds of Burton and Shaheen, the injury issues and underwhelming play were hardly a surprise.

When it was over, the Bears had used six tight ends and not one had reached the 100-yard threshold -- not for a single game but the season in its entirety.

"Let's be real, with Trey and Adam, not having those guys hurt our offense," general manager Ryan Pace said after the season. "Matt (Nagy) talks all the time about the importance of the tight end position to our offense.

"We like those guys. They're talented. But we need availability at the position as well."

Burton had 14 catches for 84 yards in eight games before being placed on injured reserve on Nov. 16. He eventually underwent hip surgery to address a labrum injury, which the Bears hope solves the underlying issue behind his health struggles. Burton also underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia last spring, which set his 2019 offseason back.

The Bears hope Burton can return for training camp in July, though they've learned they can't count on that. Past the 28-year-old Burton, their tight end position remains thin.

Shaheen caught just nine passes for 74 yards in 2019 and was designated a healthy inactive in a win against the Lions on Nov. 10, an indication of the Bears' view of his play. He appeared on the injury report with a foot issue days later and was eventually shut down on injured reserve.

A 2017 second-round pick, Shaheen has 26 catches over 27 career games.

"It should light a little bit of a fire underneath you and have you want to come back and work on the things that you need to work on," then-Bears tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said after Shaheen was a healthy scratch.

The Bears fired Gilbride and three others assistants not long after Pace expressed his frustration with the tight end position in a season-ending press conference on Dec. 31. The reasoning behind Gilbride's dismissal wasn't clear, as the Bears brass hasn't taken questions on those decisions yet. Pace and Nagy declined to speculate on staff changes before firing four coaches right after their press conference.

Pace offered his support of Burton and Shaheen for 2020, though his actions will speak louder than words. The Bears can't enter the 2020 season hoping Burton plays 16 games at the U position and that Shaheen is productive for a full season in the Y role.

At the least, Pace acknowledged the Bears' reality at tight end.

"Availability is critical in our league," Pace said. "We have to protect ourselves as a franchise. That's something we'll look at."

Free agency presents some intriguing options for the Bears to fill a void at a priority position, with Austin Hooper among the top tight ends on the open market. Hooper's market value is in the range of five years and $50 million, according to Spotrac, which could be too steep a price for the Bears. Eric Ebron or Hunter Henry would come at a more reasonable price than Hooper.

If the Bears truly believe in Burton and Shaheen in 2020, they may be better off finding a low-cost veteran to complement those two tight ends. Darren Fells and Tyler Eifert could fit that mold.

Pace could also go against his backing of the Bears' tight ends and find a new top target at the position in the draft. There's no surefire top tight end pick in this class like T.J. Hockenson was in 2019, but the Bears could find options that intrigue them with their second-round picks at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Missouri's Albert Okwuegbunam and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet are among names to watch for the second round.

Before the Bears can move forward with additions at tight end, they must critically assess what they have.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.