- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Chicago Bears need a tight end capable of working the middle of the field who can catch the ball on a regular basis. But it doesn't appear that person is on the team's roster.
It would be viewed by many as an upset if Kellen Davis sees the second year of the contract he signed with the Bears last offseason that calls for a base salary of $2.4 million in 2013. Davis just isn't the dependable threat in the passing game the Bears need at tight end. He had far too many drops last year as he struggled to stay upright whenever he had to turn his body to make a catch or run up field.
That needs to be fixed.
Further down the depth chart are accomplished blocker Matt Spaeth, developing pass-catcher Kyle Adams, and 2012 fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez, who spent his rookie year lining up roughly 10-12 snaps per game at the hybrid H-Back position. The Bears' reserves are more than capable to handle their respective roles, but the team has been lacking a front-line tight end since the previous regime decided to trade Greg Olsen to Carolina in the summer of 2011.
In a twist of bad luck, there are a handful of talented tight ends slated to be restricted free agents, led by Dennis Pitta, who had a breakout year for the Baltimore Ravens with 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. Pitta also has two postseason touchdown receptions for the AFC champions.
Acquiring restricted free agents is much trickier because teams have a right to match any offer sheet the player signs, and depending on the tender amount, teams can be due compensation in the form of draft picks if they decide not to match the offer.
The Bears are in desperate need of an upgrade and will no doubt investigate and consider all the available options. If they decide to address the issue in free agency, here is a list of some of the projected unrestricted free agent tight ends.
Martellus Bennett, New York Giants: The light went on for Bennett when he arrived in New York. After four mediocre seasons in Dallas, Bennett set career highs in 2012 with 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns. The Giants are expected to make a push to retain Bennett, but if the two sides are unable to strike a deal, the tight end will be a hot commodity in free agency.
Fred Davis, Washington Redskins: Davis suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 7 last year, but when healthy, he can catch the ball. Davis hauled in 59 passes for 796 yards in just 12 games in 2011 – he was suspended four games that year for drug use. Davis' off-the-field history and torn Achilles makes him a risky proposition, but let me point out again, he can catch the ball.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets: Keller had season-lows last season in basically every category due to playing only eight games because of injuries, but prior to 2012, he was a 45-65 reception guy. When healthy, Keller is a reliable target in the passing game and a decent blocker. Can you blame him if he wants to leave the Jets?
Brandon Myers, Oakland Raiders: Myers finished fourth among NFL tight ends with 79 catches and sixth with 806 yards in his breakout season. Some argue those numbers are misleading. Either way, Myers is at the bare minimum an intriguing player to check out in free agency.
Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins: A big target with 205 career receptions in seven seasons, Fasano isn't the vertical threat the Bears might not be looking for at tight end, but the Notre Dame product is consistently in the 30-40 catch range, which is still an upgrade for the Bears.
Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans: The 6-foot-5 Cook has put up impressive numbers the last two seasons with a combined 93 receptions for 1,282 yards and seven touchdowns. Cook is believed to be a candidate to be franchised by the Titans.
Benjamin Watson, Cleveland Browns: Even at 32 years old, Watson can still get it done, catching 49 balls last year for 501 yards. In 2011 he was on the receiving end of 68 passes. Watson played the bulk of his career in New England, so he knows what it feels like to win.