Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace made a significant investment at the tight end position in 2017 when he signed Dion Sims as a free agent and drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round. Unfortunately, it looks like the tight ends room still needs to be re-worked a year later.
When it comes to production, the 2017 season was a disappointing one for Bears tight ends.
The Bears didn’t have enough able-bodied receivers to where they could afford a tight end who was solely used as a blocker. And yet, that is exactly how they deployed both Sims and Shaheen in 2017.
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
Adam Shaheen will enter the second year of his rookie contract looking to improve on a 12-catch, 127-yard, 3-touchdown season. Shaheen simply wasn’t used often enough to get a complete read on what he could become. The Bears’ second-round pick played 239 total snaps, 69.5 percent of which he was used as a blocker. Shaheen appeared on just 73 pass plays, but was targeted on 14 of those (19.2%), caught 12, and hauled in three touchdowns. It’s easy to dream on the 6-6, 278-pound Shaheen being a red zone weapon, but why limit him to just that?
Dion Sims signed a three-year deal as a free agent and the Bears hoped to unlock some untapped potential he possessed as a pass catcher. Unfortunately, Sims didn’t show many signs of development as a pass catcher, but there weren’t too many opportunities for him as a receiver. He led the team’s tight ends with 580 total snaps, but only 195 came on pass plays. Sims was in on 338 run blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, but his 38.4 run-block grade ranked 62nd of 69 qualifying tight ends.
Harvard product Ben Braunecker is still on the active roster, while Colin Thompson was signed to a reserve/future contract earlier in the offseason.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
Zach Miller is a free agent, but his playing career is up in the air. Miller is holding out hope and wants to give it a go once he’s healthy, but knows it won’t be easy. It’s a shame, too, because Miller is the kind of veteran, two-way tight end who is an ideal compliment to what Shaheen brings to the table as a young player.
Daniel Brown is a restricted free agent and could fit as the kind of pass-catching tight end the Bears offense could use in 2018. Brown played 242 total snaps in 2017, with 180 (or 74.4%) coming on pass plays. With as often as Brown lined up in the slot, he might as well be a wide receiver.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
We discussed the possibility of the Bears parting ways with Sims when digging into what the free agent market could hold with Jimmy Graham and Trey Burton as possible targets. Sims has a guarantee worth $6 million that the Bears have to make a decision on by the third day of the new league year. If the new coaching staff and offensive brain-trust see Sims as a one-dimensional tight end, I imagine GM Ryan Pace could find a better way of allocating those funds.
Potential cap savings: $5,666,666 ($666,667 dead money)
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
The draft isn’t loaded with tight ends, but a mid-to-late-round possibility could be Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli, who has expressed an interest in being drafted by his hometown team. Fumagalli has the potential to be a three-down tight end because of his quality route-running skills and reliable hands, as well as a willingness and ability to block. South Dakota State product Dallas Goedert has been a play-making pass catcher at the FCS level, catching 164 passes for 2,404 yards, and 18 touchdowns the last two seasons.
If the Bears decide to go the free agent route, a pass-catching veteran like Jimmy Graham, an up-and-coming two-way tight end like Trey Burton, and a bounce-back candidate like Tyler Eifert could pop up as possibilities.
It’s possible Bears could address the position with different usage rates for the players they already have in-house, which could lead to more production from the position. When Shaheen was in the huddle, the Bears ran the ball nearly 70 percent of the time. It’s a trend like that which supports Jordan Howard’s description of the Bears’ offense as predictable.
Still, the Bears could look outside the room for some changes.