To many WCG faithful Dion Sims is a dead man walking. He got a significant pay day after being an under the radar contributor in Miami over four years of his rookie contract and he underperformed. Nothing went right for him in his first year as Bear. As a pass catcher he ended the year with 3 drops on not that many targets and a 51.7% catch percentage overall. He also struggled as a blocker, which was supposed to be his strength as a player. The Bears can save $6 million and only leave around six hundred thousand in dead cap by cutting him. Despite all this, I believe there is a good chance the Sims remains a Bear dependent on some tertiary factors that have little to do with his salary or performance from last year.
The first factor explaining why Sims may stay is the optimism that Matt Nagy’s staff can fix what was wrong with the offense. Sims only got 29 targets in 14 games played. Plus the hilariously predictable offense scheme was not helping. Blocking NFL linemen/linebackers is hard enough without them knowing what you are going to do before the ball is snapped. With a competent offensive staff Sims may be able to play up to his moderately hefty contract instead of well below it.
There is a strong caveat to this factor. It is not known whether Matt Nagy wants a tight end with Dion’s particular skill set. The Chiefs have one of the best overall TEs in the game in Travis Kelce. He is their best pass catcher and best blocker. The second tight end on the Chiefs’ depth chart last year was 230 lbs. former college basketball player Demetrius Harris. If the Bears want to follow the Chiefs model exactly, then they may run with Shaheen as their Kelce with Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker rounding out the athletic pass catching secondary tight end corps. Dion Sims’s services as a run blocker first that can contribute as pass catcher off and on will not be needed.
Assuming that the Bears feel Shaheen needs more development and want a veteran tight end with blocking proficiency to keep the run game going and Mitch Trubisky protected, what about replacing Dion Sims with a cheaper option? There are some possibilities out there but none of them are ideal.
Jimmy Graham is a free agent, but he’ll be expensive and is not a good blocker. Fans are clamoring Trey Burton, but so are a lot of other people so he is going to get paid more than what Sims makes now. He’s also smallish for a tight end (6’3 235) so he couldn’t be a do it all guy. Eifert is interesting but his injury history makes me want steer clear. There’s a bunch of Logan Paulson types out there but even if they played for free, I wouldn’t want one of them in place of Sims.
The most intriguing replacement candidate to me is Cameron Brate. He’s young and has demonstrated skills as an all-around TE. Plus the various incompetencies in Tampa Bay may have masked some of his true ability. However, there are rumors he is going to command $6.5-7.5 million annually, which is a lot for a guy with two years of good production. Overpaying him could lead to a larger Sims-esque problem down the road.
If the Bears want to replace Sims with a free agent then they have a small window to do so. $4 million of his contract guarantees on March 16th, two days after free agency open. Sims may start looking better when we start seeing the prices set for other tight ends with similar or lesser ability.
Pace is going to have to work with Matt Nagy and the rest of the offensive to decide whether Sims can be rehabilitated/used effectively in the new system. Then he’s going to have to figure out whether it’s worth trying to find a replacement. Failing to land a different free agent could leave a significant hole in the roster even if it saves some cash.
This franchise should always be striving for improvement and cannot afford any dead weight. I believe that it is entirely possible that Dion picks up the slack becomes valuable team member, but the Bears could move on; either because he is not suited for the direction the offense is moving or the Bears manage to pick up one of the few guys available that they believe would be an upgrade over him.