Chicago Bears Free Agent Options: Tight End

1 of 3

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With the start of free agency right around the corner (March 10th), I’m going to be breaking down a few options for the Chicago Bears at every position. You can access the positions I’ve covered so far via the links below and will be covering tight ends today.

The Bears have two free agent tight ends to decide on and I wouldn’t be surprised if neither is brought back, leaving Martellus Bennett as the only tight end on the active roster. As part of this series I will be listing the Bears internal free agents at each position with links to posts I did earlier this off-season on whether the Bears should keep that specific player.

Below I will be listing free agent tight ends who I think could help the Bears in 2015 and beyond. These aren’t necessarily rankings of the top free agents at the position, but players I think the Bears should target based on scheme fit, salary, and future potential. I’ve broken each position down to four parts: the big ticket signings, starters, young players with starter potential and depth players. At the end of the post, I’ve made my recommendation on which players I think the Bears should target.

Free Agent Breakdown:

D-line | O-line | 3-4 OLB | ILB | TE | WR | CB | RB | S | QB

Tight End – Bears Free Agents

Donte Rosario

Zach Miller

Tight End – Current Situation

The Bears are set with Pro Bowl TE Martellus Bennett as their starting tight end. The Black Unicorn is coming off a 2014 season with career highs in receptions (90), yards (916) and TDs (6) and at only 27 years old should have another good year or two left at least. Their starter is in place, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need depth at the position.

The Bears have been searching to a dynamic “move” TE the last two offseasons, but due to injury, poor draft choices, and ineffective free agents signings, they haven’t found a reliable option at the position. Zach Miller flashed the ability last pre-season but his bad injury luck continued with a foot injury that kept Miller out all season. The Bears may give Miller another chance, but he’s been hurt more often than he’s been healthy in his NFL career, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought in a more reliable replacement.

Inline tight end Donte Rosario was released twice last offseason, but the Bears kept bringing him back due to familiarity with the offense and a lack of better options. With a new regime (and offense) in town, I think Rosario’s days with the Bears are numbered. He’s a perfectly adequate backup but provides mediocre production and no upside.

The Bears did sign a tight end, Blake Annen, off of the Eagles practice squad around week 3 of last season, but he only saw 1 snap on offense all season (week 14). Annen may or may not be in the new regime’s plans, but he has some potential. Here was my pre-draft scouting report on Annen:

"Annen has all the physical tools you look for in a move-TE. He has good length at 6’4, 238 pounds and elite speed (4.41 40-time), but only had 16 receptions for 148 yards and 2 TEs last year at Cincinnati. His production has never matched up with his physical tools, but the Bearcats offense didn’t utilize the TE much. Annen is an intriguing talent who could be an asset as a receiver if the Bears give him some time to develop."

With a starter in place, I don’t expect the Bears to be looking for any of the high-profile options at tight end but with a new management team in place anything is possible. Maybe they think Bennett is too much of a problem in the locker room and they try to deal him. I’d be surprised, but I’m not ruling anything out. The safe money is on the Bears keeping Bennett and upgrading their depth through a low-key free agent signing or two and possibly drafting a tight end in the middle to late rounds.

Tight End – Free Agent Options

Big Ticket:

Julius Thomas – 26, Broncos (6’5 | 246): The Broncos have decided to use their franchise tag on Demaryius Thomas which all but guarantees Julius will be hitting the free agent market. The Bears are seemingly set at TE with Martellus Bennett, but the Bears new HC John Fox and OC Adam Gase are both very familiar with Thomas and could possibly look to move Bennett. It seems unusual to get rid of a guy coming off the best season of his career, but Bennett is a divisive presence in the locker room and the new regime may be looking to clean all the questionable characters from the team. There isn’t room (or cap space) for both Bennett and Thomas, so if the Bears move Bennett soon, then take that as a sign the Bears will be making a play for Thomas.

Julius Thomas is an elite move-TE and arguably the prototype for the position. At only 26 years old and without much wear-and-tear before his NFL career, Thomas should have 3-4 good years left at least and will likely garner a contract in the Jimmy Graham range of $10M per year. As I mentioned above I doubt the Bears would be interested, but John Fox has a history with Thomas so I’m not 100% ruling it out either.