Cutting Edge: Bears Tight End Spots Will Come at a Premium

Even with the expansion of rosters and practice squads, the NFL is not a place where players can expect to sit around for long without making progress and several Chicago Bears veterans on offense are about to be challenged for jobs by hungry newcomers
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If you sit around too long in the NFL it's not long before the window of opportunity closes.

In the case of some offensive players on the Bears roster this year, their window is about to close in Chicago because of players brought in during the free agency signing period and also the draft.

They'll be hard-pressed to retain spots they've had for the last year or two, or even less in some cases.

An expanded practice squad and new provisions for a larger overall roster each week could keep some of them employed.

Others will not be so fortunate.

The roster size increase is only by two, and it's not really an increase but two of the practice squad players can become eligible each week and two more players are active on game days. Practice squads do grow by two players and eventually to 14 by 2022.

So players who lose roster competitions have better chances to turn up on practice squads, and those on practice squads have better chances of becoming eligible.

The trouble with this is it doesn't help veterans who lose roster spots because they may not even have practice squad eligibility remaining.

Here are the veteran Bears offensive players whose spots on the roster appear most at risk after free agency and the draft.

1. Javon Wims

He couldn't lose a roster spot after being the only sixth- or seventh-round pick during GM Ryan Pace's time in Chicago to ever start a game, right? Guess again. The Bears have steep competition for roster spots at wide receiver. Wims got targeted 39 times and caught only 18 of them last year. A 46% catch ratio is just not good enough. The Bears have to find room for fifth-round pick Darnell Mooney on the roster. No draft pick taken in the sixth round or better has been cut in their first year by Pace and Matt Nagy since they've been calling the shots. So Mooney will stick. And Wims' college teammate, Riley Ridley, was a fourth-round pick who has barely started to show what he can do. To top it off, there's an intriguing undrafted rookie wide receiver from Kentucky named Ahmad Wagner who was a college basketball player, is 6-foot-5, 232 pounds and drew 15 defensive pass interference penalties for the Wildcats. Wims is going to feel the heat.

2. Adam Shaheen

Of course this would surprise no one. Shaheen hasn't worked out, although he definitely has the physical tools to play the position. He likely will not be cut as the team looks to get a late round draft pick back in return via trade but it's unlikely teams would give up a pick when they know he'll be on waivers soon.

3. Ben Braunecker

The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Harvard product is starting his fifth Bears season but didn't catch a touchdown pass until last year and has only 13 receptions in his four seasons. The Bears have 10 tight ends on the roster and brought in three new ones, so Braunecker at best rates the fourth tight end. With other tight ends gaining more experience within the offense last year, such as Eric Saubert, Jesper Horsted and J.P. Holtz, the Bears could look to use the fourth tight end more for other purposes and keep only three. Holtz brings along the added benefit of being able to play a fullback spot if they use one, so he would appear to have an edge to remain on the roster, as well.  

4. Ryan Nall

It took the Oregon State running back more than a year to finally get off the practice squad and onto the regular roster. His role was almost solely special teams, but now he has a shot at being the backup to David Montgomery. The only problem is he has to fend off his old Oregon State teammate, Artavis Pierce, an all-purpose type of back who might better fit into coach Matt Nagy's offense. Pierce was an undrafted free agent. Florida International rookie Napoleon Maxwell also has a shot as an all-purpose type who can challenge Nall for the roster spot he's owned only a short time.

5. Corey Levin

Some wouldn't remember he was even on the roster to begin with, but the Bears thought enough of him to sign him off the Broncos' practice squad at the end of November. Although he's probably better at center, he has the added attraction every backup lineman needs of being versatile. It will be difficult enough at guard with Germain Ifedi added to the mix. It could be a steep drop for anyone from No. 3 guard to the practice squad and then waivers.

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