Players in contention: Fred Baxter (2001-2002), Martellus Bennett (2013-2015), Desmond Clark (2003-2010), Marv Cook (1994), Keith Jennings (1991-1997), Zach Miller (2015-2016), Greg Olsen (2007-2010), Ryan Wetnight (1993-1999)
The fourth entry in the WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka Team brings our greatest debate thus far:
The way that I start all of these articles is I send an introductory email on the debate to the rest of the WCG staff, giving them my selection and a bit of my reasoning. Then we discuss a bit via email, and then I write the final story.
When I started this tight end story, I had two names in my head and two names only: Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen. These were the two tight ends on my original version of this team back in 2009, with Olsen edging Keith Jennings as the #2 tight end.
That was after only two years of Olsen’s career, but already he had distinguished himself.
My question now was between Clark and Olsen for starter of our WCG team. These were the numbers I threw to the WCG team to get our discussion going:
Clark total: 110 games, 99 starts, 425 targets, 242 receptions, 2639 yards, 10.9 YPC, 24.0 YPG, 18 TD
Olsen total: 62 games, 39 starts, 326 targets, 194 receptions, 1981 yards, 10.2 YPG, 32.0 YPG, 20 TD
Clark best season (2006): 16/16, 80 targets, 45 rec., 626 yards, 13.9 YPC, 39.1 YPG, 6 TD
Olsen best season (2009): 15/16, 108 targets, 60 rec., 612 yards, 10.2 YPC, 38.3 YPG, 8 TD
The debate came down to two sub-debates. In terms of honoring a Bear, we weighed Clark’s longevity against Olsen’s peak. In terms of imagining this team as a functional unit, we weighed Clark’s blocking ability (while still a terrific receiver) against Olsen’s dominant threat as a receiver, especially down the field.
Here’s how our debate played out:
Jeff Berckes: Definitely taking Olsen as the best player, but the Dez Dispenser is definitely making the team as a #2, right? He was a fan favorite, great locker room guy.
Lester Wiltfong: Dez was a much better blocker during his run with the Bears and for that reason, I’d take him over Olsen.
Olsen has become a serviceable blocker and a much bigger offensive threat with the Panthers, but going off his Bears time only, I’d take Clark.
Jack Silverstein: They are both 100% making the team and will line up together at times.
Jeff: Okay, good. While I agree with Lester’s assessment of blocking abilities, I want the game-changer in the passing game first and foremost. I think Olsen — and his 20 TDs in four years — is the starter.
Josh Sunderbruch: Olsen was the leading TD-receiving weapon on the Bears for three of his four years (basically, all but his first year). Clark did it once in twice as many years. Olsen was also flat out the top receiving weapon on the team one year and another year he only trailed Forte. It’s got to be Greg.
Sam Householder: It’s Olsen and I am a huge Dez fan. Dez was better all-around but was never the offensive threat that Olsen was. Olsen changed games (look at the Divisional playoff game vs. Seattle, 2011). Dez wasn’t quite there.
Lester: These are all good reasons why Olsen can come into the game on passing downs and be the Joker TE, but as the primary in-line blocker, give me Clark on 1st downs please. Thomas Jones would probably agree with me!
Robert Zeglinski: Greg Olsen is the most talented weapon at tight end the Bears have ever had. His trade stings every time it’s mentioned. (Jack note: Dez agrees on that.)
Desmond Clark I liken more to “Ol’ Reliable,” but he just can’t compare to Olsen as a receiving option, in my mind. I still remember when he caught three touchdowns against the Cardinals (albeit in a loss). That was unheard of for a guy like Clark to come free in that light again and again.
I do prefer a more balanced tight end in most situations sometimes, but given the modern era, I just think Olsen is a more valuable and more talented player, even if as a lesser blocker.
Steven Schweickert: I want Dez as starter for blocking purposes over Olsen mostly, but also give me the 1-2-2 lineup on 1st down (and 3rd and 5) and start them both, because that's really close.
Ed Snyder: It really boils down to Olsen being a little ahead of his time as the league has shifted the way tight ends function in a very fundamental way. If you look at the NFL in its up-to-the-minute incarnation, it’s Olsen without a doubt. He is in many ways exactly what the league covets from a modern TE (and his stats/impact from CAR reflect this).
If the comparison is focused on/filtered by the period when both of these players were on the field, the argument can be made that the bias shifts to Dez. He was a much better all-around player (during the phase when the NFL still had not renounced the run as the primary offensive weapon and expected tight ends to contribute to that phase in a meaningful way).
I’ll vote Dez as I’m judging them from when they were both on the field and with the Bears, not on how they’ve done since or how the league has changed.
After all that, I was pretty sure my choice was Olsen. I felt like he had the higher peak, and while we cannot use his Carolina time, we can acknowledge that the Bears probably misused him and that he was better than his numbers. And heck, he scored more in four years than Dez did in eight.
And then, just as I thought we were approaching clarity...
Jack: I feel like I blacked out and totally forgot to incorporate Marty B in this discussion. Crap. Look at this:
Lester: Bennett was the only Bears Pro Bowl tight end among this group. But he was a bit of an ass.
Sam: I can’t believe none of us thought of Marty. He was basically a three-year rental but he was very good. It’s tough. I’d still want Olsen/Dez because they are better team guys but Marty B is freakishly talented but also a huge head case which led to him not always being focused in-game.
Steven: Bennett also has the smallest sample size and arguably the team most suited to opening up his talents. That he wasn’t a consideration for most of us may speak for itself. Good player, but I’m also going to err on the side of tenure for this.
Kev H: Manu. Only Manu.
Josh: I thought of Marty and just honestly thought the other two were more deserving of being included. I saw him as third. Small sample size, erratic play, troubled contributions. Reliability matters.
Which Clark shows up? Doesn't matter, they tended to be pretty good.
Which Olsen shows up? Doesn't matter, he has a high basement.
Which Bennett shows up? It matters. It matters a lot.
Jack: Thanks Kev.
Robert: Marty’s 2013 and 2014 seasons were the best but so up-and-down. I’m sticking with Olsen.
Now you see our conundrum. Desmond Clark was the least showy but most dependable, played the longest, and was the best in the run game while still being effective as a receiver.
Greg Olsen was on pace to become the most talented of the three, was a great teammate, and was brilliant down the field.
Martellus Bennett had the highest peak and the best single year, but played the fewest seasons and was widely regarded as a difficult teammate. (Though a wonderful humanitarian! Seriously, a big salute to Marty and his brother Michael. Football isn’t everything.)
Because this is up in the air without anything close to consensus from the WCG staff, I am going to leave this starter’s spot open until after readers vote. READERS: Who is the best Bears tight end in the post-Ditka era? Remember, we are only judging the player’s time in Chicago.
Drop your explanation in the comments.
NEXT WEDNESDAY: the men who put the “foot” in football... placekickers, punters, and longsnappers...
All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Who is the BEST Bears tight end of the post-Ditka era?
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If you were building a team to compete and could only select one Bears tight end based on their time with the Bears, who would you pick?
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