What placing Trey Burton on injured reserve means for Bears tight end's future

What placing Trey Burton on injured reserve means for Bears tight end's future

Trey Burton was not willing to offer an excuse for his disappointing 2019 season, in which the 28-year-old tight end had not looked healthy following offseason sports hernia surgery and a groin injury that popped up just before the regular season began.

“It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Burton said last week. “… I don’t want to make any excuses for my play. I know I’m not playing well. And obviously I want to play better. I could easily say it’s because of this, because of that, but at the end of the day I want to be out there, I want to produce, I want to be part of the offense and it’s just not happening.”

The Bears placed Burton on injured reserve Saturday, this after he suffered a calf injury toward the end of Week 11’s win over the Detroit Lions. The move effectively ends Burton’s season, as he technically would be eligible to be activated off IR for the divisional round of the playoffs — but the Bears have a 3.6 percent chance of making the playoffs heading into Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Their chances of even making the playoffs, let alone winning a game in January, are exceedingly slim, especially when coupled with the odds Burton would actually be healthy then.

So Burton’s final 2019 stats will be: 14 catches on 24 targets, 84 yards, and no touchdowns. He averaged six yards per reception and 10 1/2 yards per game, this a year after he proved to be an important part of the Bears’ offense (54 catches, 568 yards, six touchdowns).

“It’s been frustrating for Trey,” coach Matt Nagy said Friday when asked about the potential for Burton to go on injured reserve. “You can understand that. And it has been frustrating for us, which you can understand that as well. They’ll be some decisions that we’ve got to collaborate—we’ve got to get together and just talk it through and see what’s best for him and what’s best for us and then decide on that.”

Burton’s lack of production has been a critical undercurrent to the Bears’ lack of offensive success in 2019. Nagy views his position — the “U” (move) tight end — as an “adjuster” in his offense, the kind opposing defenses need to scheme against. But opposing defenses haven’t needed to worry about Burton this year, who in addition to not making an impact on Sundays hasn’t been on the field as much as he was in 2018. Burton played 80 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps last year; in 2019, he’s only been on the field fro 57.4 percent of them.

Burton said he’s owned his poor season in conversations with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who’s mired in struggles of his own this year.

“I talked to him about it and let him know like, bro, I’m not playing well, I need to pick my game up,” Burton said. “It’s affecting you, it’s affecting other things.”

The Bears’ 2019 offense may be better off without Burton trying to fight through his nagging injuries. But placing him on injured reserve to end a massively disappointing season does not mean his career with the Bears is over.

Financially, the Bears would have little reason to release Burton before 2020’s offseason program — per Spotrac, cutting him before June 1 would only save $1.05 million against the salary cap. The Bears could generate greater cap savings if he were to be released after June 1, meaning their best course of action would be to get him to Halas Hall in the spring and see if he’s healthy.

If Burton does come back healthy in 2020, he’ll be on the team. If not, the Bears could very well release him, but it’s unlikely that’ll happen swiftly after the 2019 season ends. 

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Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

The Bears have completely flipped the narrative of their 2019 season over the last three weeks, thanks in large part to Matt Nagy's offense finally resembling the 202-level that was promised last summer.

It may have taken quarterback Mitch Trubisky a little longer than expected to arrive this year, but if his last two games are an indication of his development in his second season under Nagy's tutelage, the Bears have a bonafide quarterback. And it's been a while since that could be said.

"Mitchell Trubisky is hot, there's no doubt about it," NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said Thursday. "He seems so much more comfortable. Decisive. He's accurate with the football. Running around at the proper time. I don't think it was all Mitchell Trubisky's fault with the struggles of the offense, either."

Those struggles spanned the first half of 2019 when Chicago seemed incapable of sustaining drives or scoring points. It began with Week 1's three-point output against the Packers and continued through Thanksgiving Day when Trubisky finally got his mojo back, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions.

With Trubisky clicking, and the running game receiving a jolt from rookie David Montgomery's productive back-to-back weeks (in which he's averaged more than four yards per carry in successive games for the first time all year), the Bears appear capable of beating just about anyone. 

They'll need to. If Chicago wants to keep their weak playoff pulse going, they have to win out. And that includes games against the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings. 

The odds seem stacked against them, and it's their own fault. It took way too long to get the offense going, but it's better late than never. 

According to Simms, the Bears are that team no one wants to play.

"They're a dangerous team right now. They really are."

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Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Just when it appeared like Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was entering his final half-season as the team's unquestioned starting quarterback, the last month happened.

Trubisky's play has steadily improved over the last five games and reached what may have been his watermark moment in Week 14 against the Cowboys. He completed 74% of his passes for 244 yards and three passing touchdowns while adding a season-high 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground. It marked the second week in a row that Trubisky's completed over 74% of his passes; he connected on 76% of his throws a week earlier against the Lions.

Trubisky's recent success is a far cry from the mentally broken player he was after the first month of the season. He has his confidence back. In fact, he's playing with more confidence than he's ever shown as a pro. His recent success is a direct and obvious result of his evolution between the ears.

The Bears were circled as a team that was likely to be in the quarterback market this offseason because of how terrible Trubisky looked early in 2019. And there's still a chance that GM Ryan Pace will look to add some healthy competition to the roster, but if Trubisky continues to play well, that competition will be for the backup job. 

It's also worth noting that one of the more appealing quarterback targets this offseason probably won't make it to the open market. Titans starter Ryan Tannehill continues to enjoy a remarkable comeback season and appears destined to sign a long-term extension with Tennessee sooner than later. After Tannehill, the discount quarterback rack includes names like Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota, players who a month ago would've been viewed as marked upgrades over Trubisky.

It doesn't feel like that's the case anymore.

Barring a massive regression from Trubisky over the next three games, it's starting to feel like he's winning back Chicago's confidence one game at a time. 

With all that in mind, here's the updated Bears QB Big Board entering Week 15:

Bears QB Big Board (Dec. 12, 2019)

1. Mitch Trubisky (Bears)
previous: 2 (Dec. 3)

2. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
previous: 1 (Dec. 3)

3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans)
previous: 3  (Dec. 3)

4. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
previous: 4 (Dec. 3)

5. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
previous: 5 (Dec. 3)

6. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
previous: 6 (Dec. 3)

Outside looking in (list cut down to three)...

-Jake Fromm (Georgia)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

-Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

- Cam Newton (Panthers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

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