The Bears got a lot better at tight end during the 2020 season after being the least productive team in the NFL at the position in 2019.
But they still have quite a bit of work to do.
The last five Super Bowl Super Bowl champions have featured one of the five best tight ends in the NFL: Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Mark Andrews – all true Y or 60-minute contributors – and the Eagles and Chiefs, whose offenses Nagy hopes to emulate, won their rings with Kelce and Ertz as their leading receivers.
If the Bears are as close to competing as Ryan Pace and Nagy argue, then more improvement at the position is necessary.
Who is on the roster in 2021?
While Jimmy Graham’s blocking actually improved considerably in 2020 is still is a U or move tight end, and Jesper Horsted and Darian Clark definitely are U prospects.
Cole Kmet is the only Y or every-down tight end on the roster with a chance to make the kind of contributions of a Kelce, Kittle or Gronk. I am not saying he will or he is that kind of talent, but he’s the only player currently on the Bears roster that plays that position.
Who are the pending free agents?
Demetrius Harris is unrestricted coming off a one-year free agent deal last year, and J.P. Holtz is an exclusive-rights free agent, meaning the Bears can control him if they tender him an offer. He is a Y and a significant special teams contributor.
Thoughts on the internal options in 2021?
The Bears have salary cap issues. Graham could represent a $7 million savings, but off his 2020 contributions on the field and mentoring of Kmet, the Bears should keep him one more year if they can.
He provided more on the field than expected and a lot more in leadership and a veteran presence.
Kmet started slow, but tight end is annually one of the toughest positions for rookies to make an impact. In the final third of the season, he showed flashes of star power.
He may be the tight end the Bears have been looking for it seems almost as long as they’ve been looking for a quarterback.
Horsted was interesting in 2019 but disappointed, never working his way off the practice squad last year. Clark is an unknown.
Who is available in free agency?
It is not a good year to be shopping for tight ends in free agency.
Hunter Henry at 27 is the only legitimate stud out there, but he will be too expensive for the Bears with all their other needs, and a bit redundant with Kmet developing.
Gronkowski and Jared Cook are free agents, but Gronk will go back to Tampa. Cook is a poor man’s Gronk at this stage of his career.
If Graham does have to go, Gerald Everett and Jonnu Smith are names to keep an eye on. McHenry’s own Robert Tonyan was a breakout star for the Packers this year, but he is restricted and wouldn’t come cheap.
Who is available in the draft?
Florida’s Kyle Pitts is one of the best tight end prospects in years but he will be a top 10 pick.
Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, Miami’s Brevin Jordan, Boston College’s Hunter Long and Tommy Tremble, Kmet’s former teammate at Notre Dame all are Day 2 prospects worth keeping an eye on.
What’s your best guess?
It seemed very unlikely three or four months ago but expect the Bears to try and find a way to keep Graham as the U tight end, establish Kmet as the Day 1 starter and do all they can to push him toward stardom.
They probably will tender Holtz to keep him for another season, hope that Horsted emerges this year as a solid No. 2 move tight end and perhaps draft a developmental prospect on Day 3.
As much as Nagy needs to get more from the position, Kmet could be the answer. And with all their other needs, it’s hard to see them investing heavily in new talent here.