It's no secret that the Bears have a need at the tight end position. It has been years since Chicago has seen a consistent force at TE. Arguably, one has to go all the way back to Desmond Clark to find a TE Bears fans by and large can agree was a solid all-around player.
Rather than focus on the draft for a TE, as many seem to be clamoring to do, Phil Emery could look to free agency. There will be several big names hitting the market and some could be had for relative bargains.
While drafting Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert or Stanford's Zach Ertz in one of the first two rounds would be great, the Bears have several needs and it might make sense to grab a mid-round prospect to groom than to pull the trigger early on one when there could be other needs filled.
Furthermore, there is not a lot of evidence that suggest that Marc Trestman's offense doesn't need/want a dynamic play-making tight end.
The best a tight end has done under Trestman is Brent Jones on the 1995 San Francisco 49ers. He caught 60 passes for 595 yards and three touchdowns. In 1989 he coached Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome and Newsome caught 29 passes. I'm not going to get into all the breakdowns if you want to see for yourself you can explore the data here. Overall although, tight ends under Trestman have averaged somewhere around 30 catches, 350 yards and a couple touchdowns.
So I think it is unlikely Trestman and Emery will set their sights on a TE in round one.
Trestman is more likely to attack the middle of the field with his slot receiver and his running backs. So his TE will likely be more of a blocker.
If he does want to use his TEs in the passing game, he will want an all-around type TE and not a receiver-first guy.
Now let's check out which TEs will be on the open market:
Martellus Bennett, Giants - Bennett started for Giants last year and had a career year; 55 catches, 626 yards and five TDs. Despite the numbers he was still viewed as inconsistent in the passing game and I personally remember watching him in several nationally televised games and coming away disappointed in him. Many fans wanted him last year and he could be had on the cheap because of his inconsistent play.
Jared Cook, Titans - Now I owned Cook in a couple fantasy leagues after hearing from the so-called "experts" last summer that he could be in for a breakout year and could be the "next" young, athletic TE. Well he didn't even match his 2011 output with 44 catches, 523 yards and but a career-high four TDs. He will come cheap but he is a bit of an unknown commodity. His career highs in catches and yards were in 2011; 49 and 759.
Fred Davis, Redskins - Davis had a mini-breakout year in 2011 with 59 catches, 796 yards and three TDs. Many expected even bigger things for Davis in 2012 but an injury early in the season shut him down after only seven games, 24 receptions and 325 yards. He has some baggage, having been suspended in 2011 for testing positive for marijuana and he is representing himself in a legal dispute with a woman who alleges he assaulted her by dumping his drink on her at a night club. Emery would have some homework to do but he took a chance on Brandon Marshall and Davis is only 27.
Dustin Keller, Jets - Keller had some injuries last year, limiting him to eight games and he had only 28 catches for 317 yards. However, the previous two seasons he was abl to establish himself as a viable weapon along with Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. In '11 he caught 65 passes to lead the team, as well as a team-leading 865 yards. In '10 he had 55 receptions. There are some questions about his blocking ability, however.
Brandon Myers, Raiders - After my disappointment with Cook in fantasy football, I was able to pick up Brandon Myers and he carried my TE position until poor QB play completely destroyed it. Anyway, Myers is only 27 and he is coming off his first full-season as a starter and he led the team with 79 catches for 806 yards and added four TDs. He was Carson Palmer's favorite target and according to Pro-Football Focus, his 6 drops were among the 10 most in the league but with 101 targets and 85 catchable balls, his 7.06 drop rate looks much better among the others on the list.
Anthony Fasano, Dolphins - Fasano carried PFF's best grade for drop rate among eligible TEs. He had no drops among his 41 catches. Fasano caught a career high 41 passes but had only 332 yards and five TDs. He's never had a dynamic over-50 catch season, but his stats make him look like an attractive option for Trestman's offense.
Those are biggest names on the market. Others out there include; Delanie Walker, 49ers (he carried PFF's worst grade for drop rate), Dante Rosario, Visanthe Shiancoe, Will Heller, Leonard Pope, Todd Heap, Benjamin Watson, Daniel Graham, Dallas Clark and Evan Moore.
What do you think about the Bears adding a TE in free agency? Check out this list to see who all is out there.