The opening salvos of free agency were a thorough success for the Bears on Tuesday. One of those additions was the Swiss Army Knife known as former Eagles’ tight end Trey Burton.
With Burton’s addition being finalized on Wednesday, much will be made of how he fits into Chicago’s offense over the next few months. Coming over from defending champion Philadelphia, there is little doubt he will play a big factor into the creativity and diversity of Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy’s new offense. His role can’t be diminished. It must be clear that even if he is a tight end, it’s a completely different type of tight end than that of current starter Adam Shaheen. Burton is not going to take Shaheen’s job because they’ll have completely different responsibilities. He’ll be more of a complement working in tandem that is still heavily deployed.
Understanding the nuance surrounding Burton will be a process. I spoke with the diligent Benjamin Solak from SB Nation’s Eagles’ website Bleeding Green Nation to establish a baseline of familiarity with the 26-year-old Burton and what his addition means to the Bears.
1. What are Trey Burton’s strengths for those that might be unfamiliar? Where are his struggles?
Benjamin Solak: Burton’s greatest strength is his versatility. He has a blend of size and quickness that enable to him line up anywhere from slot receiver to fullback, and as such, he can be deployed in a variety of ways. He’s got natural hands and runs clean routes: his yard after the catch ability is strong. You don’t necessarily want him blocking square on a defensive in traditional in-line sets: reserve that role for Shaheen. As a space blocker though, he’s just fine.
2. Burton hadn’t arisen as a solid contributor for the Eagles until his third season in 2016. What was holding him back, and what led to his jump in snaps and contribution?
BS: Being low on the depth chart as a former undrafted free agent will do that. Behind a stellar veteran in Brent Celek and a rising star in Zach Ertz, there weren’t many snaps to go around. But he proved his worth on special teams and, because he could fill multiple roles, hung around on the depth chart and kept growing. Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson’s offense helped unlock him.
3. Some might say the Bears are paying too much (four years, $32 million) for a tight end who had only a little over 30 receptions last year. Is there any merit to that, or does Burton warrant more value?
BS: It is pricey, I agree. Burton had a big market because a lot of teams believe in that upside, so paying a pretty penny out of pocket was inevitable. In context with the rest of Chicago’s pass-catching moves (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel) I’m left wondering how many touches he’ll get, and if they will warrant $8 million.
4. Were there any reasons beyond money as to why the Eagles let Burton walk? Would you have prioritized him at a cheaper price based on his play?
BS: Heck no. Burton vocalized his sadness that Philadelphia never offered him this off-season, but the reality was most knew he was due for a big payday elsewhere. The Eagles were happy to see a good young player get a shot at more snaps and a big check. That’s the business.
5. How do you see Burton being used in Chicago with another Andy Reid disciple in Matt Nagy? Where will his primary responsibilities lie? How does he add another dimension to the Bears’ offense?
BS: He fits in very well with the Nagy offense. Burton can be used on those inside shovels that the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce has made popular. He can confuse pre-snap looks by lining up at slot receiver and then motioning in to play lead full back. He can be isolated backside in 3 x 1 sets and present a mismatch against smaller cornerbacks or slower linebackers. He’s a chess piece, and Nagy is creative. Win-win.
6. What should the Bears expect from Burton, on and off the field, in 2018 and beyond?
BS: Burton is a devout Christian who was involved with multiple baptisms in the faith-centric locker room in Philadelphia. He’s a pastor as well, I believe. It will be interesting to see if that resonates with some men of faith in Chicago.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.