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Jimmy Graham’s place on the 2021 Chicago Bears

Jimmy Graham is still a Bear, and he’s still the best U tight end on the roster.

Chicago Bears v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

I’m just as surprised as most of you guys that 34-year old Jimmy Graham is still on the Chicago Bears roster, but here we are in mid May and it looks like he’s here to stay.

When Bears general manager Ryan Pace inked him last year to a two-year, $16 million deal, with $9 million guaranteed, we all assumed he’d only see the first year of that contract. Cutting him before the 2021 season would save the Bears $7 million in cap space, while keeping him around is going to eat up $10 million of their cap. I figured he was only still a Bear due to his friendship with Russell Wilson, and while the Bears still had an offer on the table for Russ, it made sense to hold onto Graham just in case.

But with the Bears getting Justin Fields in the draft, that ship has sailed.

So why is Jimmy Graham still around when the Bears are so tight against the cap?

At this point in his career Graham isn’t moving the needle for anyone if they’re betting on NFL games, but Graham is still a fairly productive move (U) tight end.

Well, at least he’s the most productive U the Bears have on their roster right now.

Cole Kmet starts at the in-line (Y) tight end, which leaves only Jesper Horsted and Darion Clark on the current offseason roster that project to the U. Horstead, a converted wide receiver, had some playing time in 2019 before spending all of 2020 on the practice squad, and Clark, a converted basketball player, spent all of 2020 on injured reserve. J.P. Holtz is the only other tight end on the roster, but he’s more a blocker and occasional H-Back.

Chicago has yet to announce their undrafted free agent class, but it was reported that there was one tight end among the group, Scooter Harrington from Stanford, but at 6’4”, 250 pounds, he’s a Y.

Unless the Bears sign a free agent, this is the 6 the Bears will take into camp, and there’s no one to legitimately challenge Graham for playing time.

His 50 catches and 456 yards last year ranked 4th on the Bears, and his 8 touchdowns led the team. League wide, his 50 catches ranked 14th among all tight ends (both the move and in-line variety), his 456 yards was 19th, but his 8 TDs was tied for 3rd among all tight ends.

Graham is a respected veteran in that locker room, and he’s a mentor to the 22-year old Kmet, but he’s being paid a lot of money for average production. Perhaps a normal offseason will allow him to find a bigger role in the offense, and perhaps the new quarterback room will be able to get him the ball more than last year.

Anything can happen in the coming months as far as veteran tight ends being released around the league, but for now Graham is a Bear, and he’s still the best U on the roster.