When the Chicago Bears announced Matt Nagy as the team’s head coach, they officially introduced a new era of offensive football to the Windy City.
Out are the days of predictable and safe play calling. In its place, Nagy will implement a wide-open attack that’s willing to challenge defenses downfield as much as it will churn out yards on the ground. But for his offense to reach its apex, he needs an athletic playmaker at tight end.
And that’s why Trey Burton is so important.
Burton will assume the Travis Kelce role in Chicago, one that could result in a number of targets that rivals No. 1 receivers. Kelce had 122 targets with the Chiefs last season compared to 105 for Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s most explosive weapon at wideout.
No one is expecting Burton to out-target Allen Robinson, but he could push Taylor Gabriel or Anthony Miller for second in Mitch Trubisky’s pecking order. Burton has the necessary skill set to stress defenses on seam routes and can make plays like a big running back after the catch. While he may not be the overall player that Kelce is at this point in his career, he should set new career highs in receptions and yards in 2018.
But with all the positives on Burton’s scouting report comes the unavoidable and dangerous label that best describes him right now: Potential.
Burton has never been a starter in the NFL since joining the league as an undrafted free agent with the Eagles in 2014. He’s sat behind Zach Ertz and has produced when given a chance, but he’s never had more than 37 catches or 327 yards in any season of his career. He had a career-high five touchdowns in 2017.
That said, success in the NFL is often based on situation. In Burton’s case, his path to a starting job has been blocked by a very talented and productive player in Ertz, but that doesn’t mean Burton can’t be a productive starter. The Bears certainly believe he can be, as evidenced by the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in free agency. His contract makes him the 10th-highest cap hit on the roster this season.
In many ways, Burton is the real X-factor on offense. He should be in favorable matchups more often than he’s not, and that will give Trubisky an ideal security blanket if his downfield targets are well covered. He’ll also give Trubisky the ability to check from a run play to a pass if the on-field matchups are to his liking. Bigger, more lumbering players like Adam Shaheen don’t quite offer that same luxury.
Burton was one of several offseason moves made by general manager Ryan Pace in an attempt to transform the offense from a middling and unproductive group to an explosive pack of point scorers. As a result, pressure is on the 26-year-old to come through in a big way in 2018.