Bears Still Searching For Solutions At Tight End

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- The Bears are no closer to re-establishing Trey Burton in their offense or finding solutions at tight end.

Late in the Bears' win against the Lions on Sunday, the 28-year-old Burton suffered a calf injury, leaving his status uncertain moving forward. He didn't practice Wednesday, and coach Matt Nagy was unsure when Burton would be returning to work.

"We’re still kind of working through it," Nagy said before practice.

Signed in March 2018 to a four-year, $32-million deal, Burton has 14 receptions for 84 yards in a season marred by injuries. 

Burton missed the Bears' wild-card round loss to the Eagles in January with a groin injury that he first experienced the night before that game. He underwent surgery in April for a sports hernia believed to be related to that injury. After the team eased him through work in training camp, Burton suffered a groin injury a week ahead of the regular-season opener. The Bears believed that injury wasn't related to the previous groin issue.

Burton missed the season opener against the Packers on Sept. 5 but has played in each game since, despite the groin injury lingering. He posted season-highs with four receptions and 20 yards in Chicago's win at Washington on Sept. 23.

The Bears have struggled for solutions at the tight end position without Burton at full health. Adam Shaheen, a second-round pick in 2017, has just nine catches for 74 yards in eight games. The Bears' faith in him has waned to the extent that they made him a healthy scratch for the first time in his career Sunday. The Bears then turned to Ben Braunecker at the U tight end spot, and the Harvard product caught the first touchdown by a Bears tight end all season.

The team hasn't committed to making Shaheen active again moving forward.

"Each week, we evaluate the grouping of football players that are going to help us win," tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said. "He didn't make it. That's the only week he didn't make it so far. Hopefully he will moving forward.

"It should light a little bit of a fire underneath you and have you want to come back and work on the things that you need to work on."

The Bears could turn to converted tackle Bradley Sowell for an increased role at tight end. The 30-year-old Sowell has played in only two games this season and has shuffled on and off the roster amid his development at a new position. Through that, the Bears have been intrigued at his progress at tight end.

The Bears are carrying five tight ends on their active roster, with J.P. Holtz also playing a role at fullback. They also have two tight ends on the practice squad in Jesper Horsted and Dax Raymond.

The rookies Horsted and Raymond are considered developmental prospects for the Bears, and Gilbride is overseeing their growth. Each Saturday, he meets with them and they review their work with the scout-team offense facing the first-team defense.

"They have been working their butts off, both of them," Gilbride said.

Whether Burton can salvage his season will be determined by health. His 14 receptions mark the lowest of his career since 2015, when he primarily served as a special teams player for the Eagles. Burton caught 54 passes for 569 yards and six touchdowns in 2018, his first year with the Bears.

Burton's contract included the $18 million guaranteed paid at signing, which means the Bears could cut ties if they see fit. He's owed $12.7 million in base salary over the next two seasons.

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