Trey Burton - Signed through 2021 - The Chicago Bears got about what they expected from Burton in 2018 with 54 receptions, 569 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Those numbers ranked 10th, 13th, and tied for 4th among all tight ends that season, but he didn’t come anywhere near that production last year. After groin surgery slowed his offseason participation, he struggled to get his body right and eventually a calf injury landed him on injured reserve. He only played in eight 2019 games, with five starts, and his 14 receptions led all Bears’ tight ends.
The Bears better hope he can bounce back in 2020 because cutting him would incur a dead cap hit of $7.5 million, so he’s not going anywhere.
Burton will never bring elite productivity to Matt Nagy’s offense, but if healthy he can give them the adjuster they need to help out the quarterback. A stat line similar to what he did in 2018 coupled with better production from the Y would go a long way towards getting the Bears offense fixed.
Adam Shaheen - Signed through 2020 - Cutting Shaheen would only result in $609,644 of dead cap space, so the Bears may be ready to part ways with the former second round pick. He’s likely be a part of the offseason roster, but there’s no chance the Bears are going to count on him for anything.
My guess is we’ve seen the last of Shaheen in the NFL.
J.P. Holtz - Exclusive rights free agent - I thought Holtz showed some decent blocking from both the Y and when lined up in the backfield, and that versatility could get him another contract from the Bears. He’d be a solid special teamer and back up.
Ben Braunecker - Signed through 2020 - Braunecker had his most opportunities as a pro in 2019 and it led to a career best 6 receptions, 59 yards, and 1 TD. Through four years he’s proven to be a nice special teamer and a 4th or 5th tight end, but his athleticism has never translated to more offensive impact.
Jesper Horsted - Signed through 2020 - The converted wide receiver from Princeton needs to take full advantage of this offseason to ready his body for the U tight end spot. Of all the tight ends on the roster, I think Horsted has the highest ceiling. At 6’3”, 237 pounds he’s still growing into the role, and he knows what he needs to do to ready himself for the 2020 season. “I need to get stronger and bigger,” Horsted said via the Bear Report, “It’s not about any particular number in terms of weight gain, though I’d like to add about 5 pounds. It’s more about maximizing strength.”
Eric Saubert - Signed through 2020 - Saubert was a late 2019 addition to the roster and he played 69 total snaps in their last two games. He’ll be in competition for a backup-special teams role with Braunecker.
Darion Clark - Signed through 2021 - The NFL has had plenty of basketball to football tight ends through the years, but most of these guys are developmental projects. He has spent the last couple years working on the transition, so he should at least look like a football player in camp. He definitely has the athleticism and if he shows promise he could be a practice squader in 2020.
Dax Raymond - Signed through 2021 - The Bears have several young athletes battling for a spot, so if Raymond wants to stand out he could do so if he can show improvement as a blocker.
Bradley Sowell - Free agent - Let’s be real, Sowell was a bad swing tackle in 2018, so moving to tight end was his best way to prolong his NFL career. The Bears gave him a chance and he’ll look to latch on as a back up Y somewhere else in 2020, but my guess is he’ll be out of the league.
Demetrius Harris - Signed through 2020 - The Bears signed Harris on 2/19 and he’ll provide some depth at both the Y and the U, with most of his reps probably going as an in-line tight end, but he’ll also be able to contribute on special teams.
2020 OUTLOOK - The Bears know how critical it is to get production out of the tight end position so I would expect them to bring in a veteran (cross the vet off the list with the addition of Haris) and a rookie to add to the mix. Burton can’t be trusted, Braunecker and Holtz are a backups, and Horsted is an unknown.
I don’t see the Bears dropping any serious money on a guy like Austin Hooper, but rather going after a younger veteran like Nick Vannett or Ben Koyack, or a guy in need of a change of scenery like Tyler Eiffert. Eric Ebron is a popular name being mentioned, but his price tag could get up in the Hooper territory, and I don’t see the value in him at that price. One guy to keep in mind is Cameron Brate, who may be a cap casualty form the Bucs. He’s still relatively young at 28-years old, and recent production would indicate his salary demands would be reasonable.
With Burton’s contract getting easier to chop from the books following the 2020 season, I think the Bears will look for a U tight end in this draft with the hope he can take over in 2021. There are several options that should be available when the Bears pick in the second round, and one of them is Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins, a favorite of Jacob Infante’s, our resident draft guru.
Hopkins is a natural catcher of the football who blends speed, route-running prowess and toughness after the catch. As far as high-volume ‘U’ tight ends in this class go, he’s the best, and the Bears would be wise to give him a look in Round 2.
For more on Hopkins, as well as LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss, check out Jacob's full scouting reports in the links below.
What are you guys thinking the Bears will do at the tight end position in 2020, and what would be your ideal scenario?