Trey Burton - Signed through 2021 - Burton was signed by the Chicago Bears to slide into the featured “F” tight end role in Matt Nagy’s offense and he set career highs in across the board. From a production standpoint, his 54 receptions ranked 10th among all tight ends, his 569 receiving yards was 13th at that position, and his 6 touchdowns was tied for 4th most at TE in the NFL. From a monetary standpoint, his $8 million average per year salary was 8th among his peers. The Bears needed a versatile move-tight end and Burton was the best guy for the job.
I would expect Burton’s production to get a bit of an uptick in 2019 as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky gains familiarity in year two of the offense. Head coach Matt Nagy talked about the entire offense taking a step next season and that comfort should help the pass catchers be in a better position for more yards after catch, an area the Bears weren’t very good in last year.
Burton missed the playoff game against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, with a groin injury and after his early season revelation that he suffered from some anxiety issues, many questioned if the groin was just a cover-up.
General manager Ryan Pace addressed this at the year end press conference saying all their tests showed that Burton did have groin inflammation. It was just a weird thing that flared up on the Saturday morning before their wild card game. The timing of the injury was unfortunate, but it showed how important of a piece Burton is to their offense,
Adam Shaheen - Signed through 2020 - The preseason injury that cost him the first 10 weeks of the regular season slowed his development. We saw the Bears utilize a lot of double tight end stuff in training camp that we never really got to see in the regular season. He’s a decent enough athlete with good size (6’6”, 275), but besides a couple of end zone jump balls, we haven’t seen those traits stand out so far. With only 5 catches for 48 yards, and a touchdown in 2018, Shaheen should head into the 2019 season with something to prove.
In the offseason the Bears talked about him playing at the inline Y TE spot, but also getting some reps at the F, but through two injury plagued seasons I’m not so sure he can be effective moving around the formation like Burton does. I’m not ready to call the second round pick a bust, because his blocking improved from his rookie year, but I’d like to see more from him as a receiver to justify his 45th overall draft status in 2017.
Ben Braunecker - Restricted free agent - Braunecker played about 56% of the Bears’ special teams snaps (239) and another 119 on offense. I could see the Bears bringing him back to compete for the number four spot, but I think an upgrade is needed behind Burton and Shaheen. Braunecker was able to play both tight end positions for the Bears, but finding a guy that can do it better is a must.
Daniel Brown - Free agent - I doubt the Bears will bring Brown back. He played about the same amount of snaps on special teams as Braunecker did, but he only played 23 snaps on offense. Brown was more F than Y, and isn’t versatile enough to stick as the fourth TE.
Zach Miller - Free agent - Miller spent all of 2018 on the injured list, and while I think he’s a great addition to the locker room, his playing career is likely over.
Dion Sims - Signed through 2019 - He’s gone and the Bears will save $6 million by releasing him.
2019 OUTLOOK - The big key to this position group is Shaheen staying healthy and having a productive offseason. I think another year in the Bears strength and conditioning program will do his game well. He has adequate straight line speed, but at his size he needs to understand when he needs to get low and punish defensive backs.
I want to see the Burton/Shaheen double tight end offense that was teased at training camp.
Decent competition at tight end can be found in the later rounds of the draft and the UDFA market, so expect the Bears go that route for at least one or two guys. They’ll need someone to play special teams and be able to play offense in a pinch. I think the Bears would like a guy that is more Y than F, but not strictly a “blocking” tight end. Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad and Drew Sample from Washington both showed some ability as blockers in college, and their receiving skills could be developed at the next level. Josh Oliver of San Jose State University and Texas State tight end Keenen Brown are more F than Y, but their blocking could be coached up.
The Bears may also bring in a cheap veteran or two for competition, but nothing more than some minimum salary type of players.
What do you guys see on the depth chart behind Burton and Shaheen in 2019?