Entering the 2013 offseason, improving the tight end corps is an absolute must for the front office and coaching staff of the Chicago Bears.
Tight ends currently on the Bears roster include six-year veteran Kellen Davis, seventh-year pro Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams, who has just three season of experience.
The corps collectively accumulated 29 receptions for 297 yards and three touchdowns, with only about half the passes thrown their way going for completions. These are stats that many NFL tight ends surpassed individually last season. For a passing game with so many other weapons, 10 yards per catch and less than two catches per game is unacceptable.
With Marc Trestman bringing in his offensive pedigree, it is almost certain that Chicago will be on the lookout for a play-making tight end this offseason. Here are five free agents and five draft prospects the Bears should keep a close eye on this offseason.
Originally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round, Martellus Bennett finally lived up to the high expectations placed on him coming out of Texas A&M.
Bennett was released after the 2011 season by the Cowboys for his poor production in a season that saw him targeted a career-low 26 times. After being released, he was picked up quickly by the NFC East rival New York Giants.
The 6’6'', 265-pound tight end had his most productive season by far for the Giants. Totaling 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns. He had the eighth best yard average per reception among tight ends that caught 50 or more passes with 11.4 yards a catch.
To go along with a sub 4.6 40-time, he is a willing blocker that can get the job done when asked. He also poses as a huge red-zone threat with his size and leaping ability.
The future of the 26 year-old tight end is looking bright. After signing only a one-year contract with the Giants, Bennett is looking to bring in big bucks after his season. But it should not be too steep for the Bears to put an offer out for him.
The 6’5’’, 248-pound tight end finished with 44 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. For his size, he is deceivingly fast. Cook ran a 4.49 40 at the 2009 NFL combine.
He has also helped pave the way for Chris Johnson's 2009 season and then beyond. Proving he is a capable enough blocker when asked.
Cook was demanding a trade last season according to CBS Sports, so it is highly unlikely that the talented tight end will re-sign with Tennessee.
At just 25, signing Cook to the long term deal he is looking for would not be an issue with the age factor. His size and speed would be a perfect match between the numbers as Cutler's newest weapon in Chicago.
After three dismal seasons with Oakland where he only saw a total of 48 targets, Brandon Myers jumped onto the scene as one of the Raider’s top receiving threats.
Drafted originally out of Iowa in 2009, the 6’3’’ 256-pound Myers had 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns.
Showing consistent hands and the ability to get open in the middle of the field, Myers would be a perfect option to come in and help revive Chicago's tight end corps.
Oakland’s state of mind on re-signing one of the few bright spots on offense remains to be seen. But, if Myers was to become available in free agency, do not be shocked if the Bears want to sign the tight end quickly.
Having only one productive year means that Myers should come at a cheaper price than other more prolific tight end options.
At 27, there is still plenty of shelf life for Myers who is just hitting the prime of his career.
Being a reliable target in the middle of the field for years, Miami Dolphin Anthony Fasano becomes a free agent this offseason.
Ever since he signed with Miami in 2008, Fasano has quietly become one of the most reliable tight ends in the league, catching 23 touchdowns and accumulating 2,104 receiving yards in five seasons.
The 6’4’’, 255-pound Fasano had a down-year in terms of yardage, but had career highs in receptions and targets. He finished the year with 41 catches on 69 targets, for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
Fasano shows extra value in the run game as well, being an excellent blocker at the end of the line.
At 28, Fasano should still be able to produce consistent numbers the way he did in Miami. If the Bears were to be interested, he would be a very capable tight end to help be a threat receiving and blocking.
Yes, Dallas Clark will be 34 by the time next season rolls around. No, he is not the same threat that he once was in Indianapolis. But the tight end can still get the job done consistently.
Clark, who was released in Indianapolis because of his contract, signed with Tampa Bay for the 2012 season. There, he recorded 47 receptions for 435 yards and four touchdowns.
The Iowa alum can block when called upon, even though is generally labeled as a one-dimensional pass catching threat.
At 6’3’’, 252-pounds he has great size and very soft hands. He could be a great red zone and middle-of-the-field threat for the Bears.
Due to Clark's age, most of the offers that come his way will be one and two-year dals. But a slight revival this season with Tampa Bay after his final two seasons in Indianapolis shows that he still has enough juice in the tank to produce Dallas Clark-type numbers.
Just imagine the possibilities in the passing game with the combination of Cutler and Clark. Wouldn’t that be something sweet?
If the Bears are unable to sign a tight end in free agency, there are plenty of prospects to choose from in the NFL Draft.
One such tight end is Zach Ertz out of Stanford. The 6’6", 252-pound junior tight end had a breakout season after taking over the starting role in place of Coby Fleener. Ertz caught 69 passes for 898 yards and 6 touchdowns in 14 games for the Cardinals last season.
To go along with being a great receiving threat, Ertz is a tight end that understands blocking schemes. He helped pave the way for Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor to rush for 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Look for Ertz to perform well in all facets of the combine. Players out of Stanford are always well polished in the interviewing process and Ertz should have no problem in receiving drills.
With Ertz expected to go within the first two rounds in April’s draft, the Bears might be looking to grab him at 20. He most likely will not be around for Chicago's second round pick, so they would need to trade up in the second if they pass him at 20 and like Ertz to be their future tight end.
Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz seem to be attached at the hip when talked about in this year’s draft.
Eifert is also 6’6’’, and is 251 pounds. He saw his numbers go down just slightly in his junior season with the Fighting Irish, but still hauled in 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns.
He is considered to be a complete tight end prospect, willing to block and pave the way for running backs.
His draft stock is looked to be the same as Ertz. If he slips past the first round, he should be picked up in a hurry within the first 15 picks in the second. And this is all still without the combine, so it is yet to be seen how his draft stock will look after workouts.
If the Bears were to like him over Ertz, and pass on him in the first, they would most likely need to trade up in the second to get the prized tight end prospect.
Gavin Escobar is a tight end Bears should be interested if they decide to focus on different needs like offensive line in the earlier rounds.
His production at San Diego State has been very impressive. The junior caught 42 receptions for 543 yards and six touchdowns. His sophomore season was even better with 51 catches for 780 yards and seven touchdowns.
Having two years of consistent play shows that Escobar is a reliable threat at the tight end position. At 6'6'', 255 pounds, his makes him a matchup nightmare.
His draft stock is currently somewhere between the third and fourth rounds, but he can see a huge boost at the combine, where his size and athleticism should catch the eyes of scouts.
The Bears should be looking closely at Escobar if they decide to go in a different direction in the first couple of rounds.
Joseph Fauria is a very intriguing albeit raw tight end prospect.
The 6'7'', 255-pound tight end had an absolute breakout year with 46 catches for 637 yards and 12 touchdowns.
It is no doubt that he shows promise at the passing game, but doesn't show much effectiveness blocking. He will have to be coached thoroughly to be a decent blocker in the NFL.
A great red zone target, Fauria is currently viewed as a late-round prospect to be drafted between rounds four and six.
If the Bears view him capable enough to block in their system after coaching and learning proper technique, he could be a dangerous option in the passing game, especially if they are able to get him for a late-round pick.
Another late-round tight end prospect is Jake Stoneburner.
He didn't get much attention in the Buckeye's offense, catching just 16 passes. But he made the most of those receptions, compiling 269 yards and four touchdowns.
The senior stands tall at 6'5'' and 245-pounds. Stoneburner does show consistent hands and the ability to fight for extra yardage when given the opportunity.
His name is rarely mentioned in mock drafts before the fifth or sixth round, due to his lack of production in the passing game.
This might be a blessing for the Bears if they dub Stoneburner as their guy at the tight end position, as he'll come cheap late in the draft.