Chicago Bears Free-Agent Focus: Austin Hooper

Chicago Bears Free-Agent Focus: Austin Hooper

The Chicago Bears are paying tight end Trey Burton, and his 68 catches over the last two years, $8 million per season. Let that sink in for a minute.

While the book on Burton's Bears career isn't completely written yet, he's fallen way short of the expectations that came along with his four-year, $32 million free-agent deal signed in 2018. At this rate, he'll go down as one of general manager Ryan Pace's bigger free-agent blunders and will force Chicago to search for a potential replacement on the open market this offseason.

RELATED: Top 30 free agents of the 2020 NFL offseason

The top free-agent tight end this year is Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper, who ended 2019 with 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns. Fantasy football players are very familiar with Hooper, who, at one point last season, was the most productive player at the position.

Like Burton, injuries struck Hooper last year and limited him to just 10 starts. It was the first time in three seasons that he didn't play a full 16 games and Matt Nagy should be intrigued by what his production could have been if he remained healthy.

Nagy's offense relies heavily on production from the tight end in the passing game. The Chiefs and Eagles, who field Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, are prime examples of Nagy's offensive origins. Neither Kansas City nor Philadelphia would be nearly as effective on offense without their All-Pro tight ends and while Hooper still has a ways to go before he's in the position's upper class, he's certainly trending in that direction.

Hooper won't come cheap. In fact, he'll cost the Bears more than Burton did a couple of years ago. According to Spotrac, Hooper's expected market value will generate a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $50 million. That's a big price tag for the former third-round pick out of Stanford but Pace may have no choice at this point. Investing in a player like Hooper is an indirect investment in Mitch Trubisky, who Pace clearly wants (and needs) to succeed in 2020.

Hooper won't be available for long in free agency. He's likely to be one of the first big-name players to get signed in the first 24 hours of spending frenzy. Pace must be prepared to strike quickly or face being limited to the second round of the 2020 NFL draft to add that pass-catching tight end.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Bears easily on your device.

Bears 17, Packers 13: Whose arrows are up and down after spoiling Favre's retirement

Bears 17, Packers 13: Whose arrows are up and down after spoiling Favre's retirement

Well, that probably felt good. 

The Bears were apparently none too pleased about being scheduled as the Packers' opponents on the night that Brett Favre was getting his number retired at Lambeau Field. In front of a packed crowd, on the (so rainy) holiday nightcap, the Bears outlasted Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in what'll surely be the most rewarding win of the upcoming 6-10 season. Here's whose arrows are up and down in the 17-13 win: 

ARROW UP – The Bears, just in general 

Good for the (4-6) Bears! They were still technically In The Hunt, but this wasn't a particularly strong team and boy is it disrespectful to be scheduled on Favre's big night. Things never break the Bears' way in this rivalry, and especially not in Green Bay. On a nationally-televised, holiday game no less? The Bears never, ever win this game. It wasn't "a good example of football" or "fun to watch," but the luxury of winning is you don't have to remember the details. 

ARROW DOWN – The passing game 

Cutler threw for 200 yards, and would have had a good bit more if there weren't so many drops. The constant, unrelenting rain that came down throughout this game obviously made the football hard to catch,  but the Bears dropped more than a couple balls. Alshon Jeffery was guilty of a couple, and Jeremey Langford's drop on 3rd and 2 in the 2nd quarter stood out as especially egregious. 

ARROW UP – Pat O'Donnell 

Eight punts for my man Pat. Eight! He racked up 323 yards while averaging 40.4 yards per punt on a night when special teams can get messy. The Packers faced tough field position all night – starting eight of their 12 drives within 20 yards of their own end zone – and O'Donnell was a big reason why. 

ARROW DOWN – Run defense 

To be fair, Eddy Lacy is huge. Lacy ran for 105 yards on 17 rushes, his longest rush of the night going for 29 yards. He was also useful out of the backfield for Green Bay, catching four balls for 34 yards – 25 of them coming on a touchdown in the first quarter. According to Pro Football Focus' grading system, this was the run defense's worst performance (36.5) of an otherwise okay season (74.1). Shea McClellin (27.7) and Christian Jones (33.8) were graded particularly poorly, though McClellin finished second on the team in tackles. 

ARROW UP – The secondary

Kyle Fuller was targeted twice in 78 snaps, and didn't allow a reception. Tracy Porter got a rare interception off Aaron Rodgers, and would have had two if not for a penalty negating the play. Bryce Callahan had an up-and-down game, but the corner had his moments and played well in coverage on the final play of the game. 

Brian Urlacher on Robert Quinn: 'I didn't love the signing'

Brian Urlacher on Robert Quinn: 'I didn't love the signing'

The best way for the Chicago Bears to take full advantage of the Khalil Mack era is to give him a competent pass-rushing running-mate who can consistently win the one-on-one opportunities he's certain to face.

Former first-round pick Leonard Floyd couldn't do it, and that's why he's no longer a Bear. It's also why Robert Quinn, who totaled 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys in 2019, was signed to a five-year, $70 million contract in free agency.

But was it money well-spent? According to Hall-of-Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, the answer is no.

“This isn’t a knock on the player, [but] I didn’t love the signing of Robert Quinn,” Urlacher said on ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy show . “I liked him, he had a great season last year, really good football player. I just – you paid Khalil [Mack] all this money, he gets all this money. Akiem Hicks is a badass in the middle, making all this money. I understand you get rid of Floyd. But do you need to spend that much money on another guy up front?

“I would think you could find someone to put pressure from that side. Khalil is getting two guys no matter who is over there anyway, and with Akiem back, it’s going to be different. Once he’s healthy, we all saw how much he meant to their defense when he wasn’t in there.”

Urlacher's points are certainly valid, and a healthy Hicks should give Chicago's defense the extra juice it was lacking for most of the second half of last season. But there's also a flaw in Urlacher's reasoning. If having two 'badass' pass-rushers is great, then adding a third can result in something truly special.

Quinn has the potential to be the final piece that the Bears' defense needs to go from great to truly elite. He's registered five seasons with at least 8.5 sacks.

Did the Bears pay Quinn too much? Did they go all-in on a player who's battled injuries before last year's resurgence? Maybe. But it's a risk worth taking, especially considering how dominant this team can be if Mack and Quinn stay healthy in 2020.