Monday, April 15, 2013
Bears: Another tight end?
By Kevin Seifert
Let's review the timeline while we have a moment.
In January, general manager Phil Emery admits the Chicago Bears need to improve their mid-range passing game, an area often reserved for tight ends.
Hours after the free-agent market opens in March, the Bears sign veteran tight end Martellus Bennett to a four-year contract. Veteran Steve Maneri, meanwhile, signs a one-year contract.
As the April 25 draft approaches, a number of respected mock drafters -- including ESPN's Todd McShay and the Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei -- predict the Bears will make Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert the No. 20 overall pick of the draft. Meanwhile, Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com reports the Bears have genuine interest in Stanford tight end Zach Ertz.
So what's going on here? Have the mock drafters forgotten about Bennett and Maneri? Do they really think the Bears would use one of their five draft picks to further stock the tight end position when more pressing short- and long-term needs exist at other positions?
Here's what I can tell you: The Bears aren't just working back from a deficit at the position. Statistically speaking, at least, they had one of the worst tight end situations in the NFL last season. As the chart shows, Bears tight ends had the NFL's lowest production in terms of receptions. Only two teams targeted their tight ends fewer times than the Bears.
Can Bennett alone spark a turnaround? (Maneri is generally considered a blocking tight end.) That might be a lot of pressure to put on one player who has caught more than 20 passes in only two of his five seasons. And it's worth noting that Bennett's contract, ostensibly worth $20.4 million, is probably better viewed as a one-year deal worth $5.315 million. Bennett's 2014 salary includes $4 million guaranteed for injury only, which means the Bears could release him if he is healthy after the 2013 season without owing him more money. (It will be guaranteed for skill as well as injury if he is on the roster on the third day of the 2014 league year.)
I don't think you could argue that tight end is the Bears' top need entering the draft. On the other hand, everything must be viewed in context. The Bears' pick at No. 20 overall puts them in good position to select the best tight end in the draft. Indeed, over the past 10 drafts, 10 tight ends have been selected in the first round. Only two, Vernon Davis in 2006 and Kellen Winslow in 2004, were selected higher than No. 20.
Pass-catching tight ends are a requirement in modern-day NFL offenses, and last year the Bears didn't have one. If they are serious about making it a strength of their offense, perhaps they do need more than one.