NFL Draft Deep In Tight End Options For Bears

INDIANAPOLIS (670 The Score) -- Bears general manager Ryan Pace holds his cards tight at this time of year, refusing to tip his offseason hand.

But when it comes to the team's pressing need at the position of tight end, he isn't leaving any doubt.

"That’s an area of focus for us," Pace said. "I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end. We’re exploring every avenue."

The Bears used six players at tight end in 2019. Trey Burton led the group with just 14 receptions, the lone tight end to produce double-digit catches. Not a single Bears tight end accumulated 100 yards over the course of the entire season.

Signed to a four-year deal in 2018, Burton played in just eight games over an injury-marred second season in Chicago. Adam Shaheen, a second-round pick in 2017, was a healthy inactive for the Bears' game on Nov. 10 before being shut down with an apparent foot injury. Nobody else proved worthy of a key role moving forward.

The Bears signed veteran tight end Demetrius Harris to a contract last week. Now, their focus turns to the options available in free agency and the NFL Draft.

While there's appeal to signing a proven commodity like Austin Hooper or Eric Ebron, their respective prices on the open market may be too high for the Bears, who currently have around $27 million in salary cap space. So if Pace hopes to secure a long-term answer at the key position in coach Matt Nagy's offense, the deep draft class of tight ends could present the best solution.

The draft has a number of intriguing prospects, though none who's considered a clear-cut top pick. Florida Atlantic product Harrison Bryant is one of them, having earned the John Mackey Award as the top tight end in college football in 2019.

Bryant has drawn comparisons to 49ers star George Kittle, the kind of tight end he strives to be.

"He's a great pass-catcher and great after the catch," Bryant said of Kittle. "But just the way he carries himself on the field with his teammates, the way he plays and the way he blocks, he's just the ultimate, complete tight end."

Notre Dame standout Cole Kmet, a St. Viator product, is another tight end who's drawing consideration as the top prospect at in his class at his position. Kmet described himself as "a true Y tight end." Then there's Dayton tight end Adam Trautman, a star at the Senior Bowl who's drawing the attention of scouts.

Trautman hauled in 14 touchdowns last season.

"I’d rather dominate the line of scrimmage and move people off the ball than score touchdowns," Trautman said.

The Bears don't own a first-round pick but hold two in the second round at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. It's possible Chicago is the first team to draft a tight end and will have its pick of the class.

Burton is unlikely to be released given the minimal return that would create in cap room. Shaheen will be given an opportunity to make the roster in the final season of his rookie contract, but Harris will be pressing him in that Y role. The likes of Ben Braunecker and Jesper Horsted project to round out the depth chart.

But what the Bears need is a dynamic player who can dictate coverages and open up their offense.

"We like looking for a guy with mismatches," Nagy said.

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