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.