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.
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.