Bears Offseason Outlook: Tight End

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of positional breakdowns as the Bears enter the offseason. Click here for all of them as we move along.
(670 The Score) Ahead of the 2018 season, coach Matt Nagy vowed the Bears would use their tight ends to create mismatches in his offensive schemes and complement the other the targets around quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

That often proved to be the case. Unfortunately for the Bears, they also came to realize the value of their tight end position in a wild-card loss to the Eagles as Trey Burton was forced out of action after suffering a groin injury just days before the game. Without him, the Eagles spent more resources zeroing in on running back Tarik Cohen and created some disarray in the Bears' plans on offense.

The Bears came to appreciate the steady presence of Burton during his first season in Chicago, but what can they expect from the rest of the tight end group?

Who's back: Trey Burton, 27; Adam Shaheen, 24

Signed to a four-year, $32-million deal last March, Burton brought the Bears production with 54 receptions, 569 yards and six touchdowns. Moving forward, he will be expected to be a strong target alongside Cohen, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller -- all of whom are locked into contract for the next two seasons.

A second-round pick in 2017, Shaheen played in just six games during his second season, missing the first 10 weeks of the regular season after landing on injured reserve with a foot/ankle injury. He also suffered a concussion in a game on Nov. 18. Shaheen had just five receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Free agents: Dion Sims, 27; Zach Miller, 34; Daniel Brown, 27; Ben Braunecker, 24 (RFA)

There are decisions to be made at the tight end spot, as four players are slated for free agency. The football future of Sims is in question after he suffered a season-ending concussion last November. Miller still hasn't ruled out a return to the field after his gruesome knee injury in 2017 nearly forced the amputation of his left leg.

Brown and Braunecker have provided depth over the last three seasons while playing roles on special teams. They each could return on new contracts.

2018 review

The Bears sought an upgrade at tight end and found it in Burton, who was fresh off the Super Bowl LII victory with the Eagles and landed the second-most guaranteed money of any tight end in the NFL at $22 million, including $18 million at signing.

Burton arrived in Chicago as a relatively unproven piece after catching only 63 passes in four seasons in Philadelphia and serving as the Eagles' third tight end on the depth chart in 2017. The Bears were undeterred, believing he could play a leading role and paying him as such.

Burton proved to be an important piece for the Bears' offense, catching 71.1 percent of his targets and creating a mismatch at times that Trubisky could hunt. Their connection proved to be important -- and its absence in the playoff loss to the Eagles was noticeable.

"I let my team down," Burton said in the aftermath of the season-ending loss on Jan. 6. "I hate it. Especially going against one of my former teams, playoff game, all the implications. It was tough."

After managing just 12 catches as a rookie in 2017, Shaheen was projected to be a more significant piece of Nagy's plans. Then he suffered his foot/ankle injury during a preseason game in August, which prevented Shaheen's season from getting off the ground.

There was speculation that Sims could be released in the 2018 offseason, but the Bears stood by his blocking abilities and Nagy planned to get him involved with the offense. Sims caught two passes for nine yards in the regular-season opener and played in eight games, but his season ended with a concussion that he suffered at Buffalo on Nov. 4.

Nagy got Braunecker involved in the offense occasionally, as he had three receptions on five targets. Brown played in 14 games but was never targeted.

2019 outlook

As Nagy looks to accelerate the Bears' offense this offseason and create something more explosive, his focus will include the tight end position and maximizing what's in place.

Burton gave the Bears what they had hoped for, but an additional threat was lacking. A healthy Shaheen could be an important addition for the Bears in 2019, though his potential is unclear after two largely lost seasons. 

The Bears could explore a low-cost option on the open market as a Burton complement while also keeping Shaheen in their plans. What's clear is the Bears have steadiness at tight end, but they could get even more out of the position.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​