Third Tight End Still Unclear

The Bears have some options going forward at tight end and there might be even a few more if certain players are cut or even traded
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When Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy closed out proceedings after Saturday's final day of the NFL Draft, one final note the team GM made pertained to possible future acquisitions currently with a team.

Pace was asked about possible veteran free agent signings.

"To answer your question: Yes," Pace said. "There's guys still that we have targeted with other teams that could be potential cuts or potential trades that we're watching closely."

The cut victims are hard to project. Trades are the same way. 

It's easier to know who the Bears would trade than it is who they might pursue. Hint: His first name is Anthony and last name might begin "Mil" and end "ler."

One of the most uncertain Bears spots on the roster besides tackle and slot cornerback is tight end.

Sure, the Bears did draft Cole Kmet last year but the cap savings they could have by cutting Jimmy Graham makes this a possibility. Graham is playing a large role, though, and doing this could cripple the offense. 

His eight regular-season touchdown catches last year came about largely because he remains a red-zone threat even if his speed has been taken by 11 past NFL seasons.

One potential upgrade at the position who would team well with Kmet instead of Graham is Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. He remains on the trading block, according to Eagle Maven publisher Ed Kracz.

"Zach Ertz will not play for the Eagles this fall," Kracz wrote. "That expectation hasn't changed."

He's still there after the draft but June 1 is approaching and this is the next natural trading or release point for players due to cap concerns. It's been speculated as many as seven teams might be interested in Ertz, whose departure could save the Eagles over $8 million in cap space.

For the Bears, that's the problem. Ertz might want too much money if he is cut and they want to sign him. His current deal would make it tough for them cap-wise, even if they did cut Graham. They're still eating $3 million on Graham's bonus this year and the salary they'd save is $7 million. So, it's a $4 million plus net. That's not going to cover over $8 million in salary for Ertz.

Would they even be coming out of it better if they had Ertz instead of Graham?

Before last year you'd have labeled anyone nuts who said otherwise, but Graham had 14 more receptions (50) for seven more TDs last year than Ertz, who did manage 11 games even if he was hurt.

Considering how the taller Graham has also become a mentor for Kmet and fit in well with the team, saving the money and keeping him around one more season while Kmet ascends might be preferable.

The problem for the Bears is they need a third tight end even if they keep Graham, because Demetrius Harris didn't work out last year. A tight end who could play either the Y or U tight spot, a swing tight end, would be best because he could replace either of the top two if hurt. 

A younger player is preferable because tight ends often play roles on special teams.

They really don't have this person on the roster at the moment.

Jesper Horsted is a U-tight end and could be a third if Graham was injured. J.P. Holtz might be able to fill the Y-tight end spot in a pinch if Kmet suffered an injury.

Really, this is something the Bears need to consider since tight ends are always high injury risks in normal years due to the wide variety of roles they're asked to perform. They're out in space running downfield like wide receivers or hammering inside like blockers. It's tough. Former GM Jerry Angelo once called it the most hazardous position, with safety right after it.

Having a tight end like Graham, who turns 35 during this season, is only inviting injury disaster all the more. The 2019 Bears tight end injury debacle with six players making 46 total receptions still remains fresh in everyone's memory.

There is one other player who seems to be a potential cut victim like Pace mentioned, and he's a viable U-tight end. It's Tampa Bay's O.J. Howard.

The Buccaneers still have Rob Gronkowski and gave Cameron Brate a new contract. They've loaded up their wide receiver corps and Bruce Ariens never has used tight ends as much as wide receivers, anyway. So Howard would be a spare part, at best. 

Two other problems preventing him from playing in Tampa Bay this year are he's coming off a torn ACL suffered last October, and he had the fifth-year option of his contract picked up. So Tampa Bay would be stuck eating $6 million for this year by keeping him. They're already paying more than that for Brate.

It probably will result in the Buccaneers simply cutting Howard or trading him for a low draft pick.

In analyzing the situation with the world champions, All Bucs writer Zach Goodall said it's even possible they might cut Brate instead of Howard. 

Either one would be a decent U-tight end option for the Bears going forward, Brate as the former Naperville athlete coming home or Howard and with his great athletic ability as long as he can come back from the ACL tear.

If none of those three work out, the Bears can look into free agency still and one of these players in particular might be a fit.

Jesse James

The Lions didn't bring him back after two unproductive seasons and 30 total catches, but James was very useful in Pittsburgh with 30 catches at least for three straight years and a high of 43. And he's been a decent blocker, even if he didn't show it in Detroit. He's still young enough at 26 to become a fixture within the offense after Graham has gone.

Tyler Eifert

Finally after what seemed an eternity of injuries, Eifert has remained relatively healthy and caught 43 and 36 passes the last two years for the Bengals and Jaguars. He turns 31 this season and any large investment in him would be met with skepticism because his knack for getting hurt.

Trey Burton

This would be like bringing Cody Parkey back. He made a bit of a recovery from the 2019 disaster he had in Chicago, when he led the league in body core surgeries. But even with 28 receptions last year he averaged only 8.9 yards a reception and is not the same player he was the first year he played for the Bears. Been there, done that.

Geoff Swaim

Still only 27 but he's really only had one year when he made an impact. In 2018 he caught 26 passes for Dallas but only 31 total for his other five seasons. He had nine catches in spot duty for Tennessee last year.

Richard Rodgers

The best option might be an Eagles tight end, after all. It's just not the one who costs more. Rodgers is versatile enough to play either tight end spot and last year the Eagles had to count on him as No. 1 tight end for a while when Dallas Goedert and Ertz were injurd. He was a force for a while in Green Bay, making 58 receptions in 2015 and 30 in 2016 but then injuries caught up to him. He played in an offense similar to the Bears offense with Philadelphia. As a third tight end this year he might be the best fit cost-wise.

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