Bears

Bears release veteran wide receiver Eddie Royal, waive three others

Bears release veteran wide receiver Eddie Royal, waive three others

The Bears offseason, already among the NFL’s busiest, spun again on Thursday with roster trims that included wide receiver Eddie Royal and defensive lineman Will Sutton, two players that finished 2016 on injured reserve but had figured prominently into personnel and rotation packages over the past two seasons.

Also waived were offensive lineman Cornelius Edison and fullback Paul Lasike.

Royal was a high-profile signing in the first offseason under GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, agreeing to a three-year deal with $10 million guaranteed with the plan for him to be a slot receiver complementing Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White. But with a succession of injuries, Royal played in just nine games in each of the past two seasons, finishing with 33 catches last season and 37 in 2015, and a total of just 3 TD receptions, plus a punt returned for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles last season.

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His contract contained no more guaranteed money for this season. The Bears’ signings of Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright, the anticipated return of White from a broken leg, and the emergence of Cameron Meredith created a crowd on the depth chart ahead of Royal, who turns 31 this month.

Sutton was a third-round pick in 2014 under then-GM Phil Emery, projected as a 4-3 interior pass rusher out of Arizona State. He earned a spot in the 3-4 schemes under coordinator Vic Fangio and line coach Jay Rodgers, and started six games last season as an undersized nose tackle before going down for the year with an ankle injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The offseason additions of Jaye Howard from the Kansas City Chiefs and John Jenkins from the Seattle Seahawks added needed size to the defensive line, which also has Jonathan Bullard, Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Mitch Unrein in the mix for front-line playing time.

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

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USA Today

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

As a large group of TV cameras gathered around Charles Leno Jr.’s space in the Bears’ locker room, Eddy Piñeiro quickly finished getting dressed in the shadows to Leno’s left. The kicker has stayed out of the spotlight since losing the trust of his head coach on a nationally-televised game three weeks ago, but he’s played as well as anyone during the Bears’ three-game return to relevance. 

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m more confident,” he said after the Bears’ 31-24 win on Thursday night. “There’s just good rhythm – good snap, good hold.” 

He hasn’t had to attempt a kick over 40 yards (!!) over the three games, but Piñeiro’s accuracy issues, at least for now, seem at bay. He hit all five of his kicks against the Cowboys – four extra points and one 36-yard field goal. The kicker hasn’t missed a field goal (5-5) since LA, and has gone 9-10 on extra points. More importantly, they haven’t lost since either. 

“It feels great,” Piñeiro said. “Everyone in the locker room is super excited and happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. When you win, everybody’s in a good mood.” 

He hasn’t been physically tested much over the last month, but just ask Aldrick Rosas or Brett Maher how easy kicking at Soldier Field is, even in nice conditions. The Bears have always loved Piñeiro’s response to adversity and it’s starting to look like he’s rewarded them again. 

“Just gaining experience, honestly,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me has just been gaining experience. Playing the game, I obviously don’t have the most experience, but I think trying to gain that experience has been the biggest thing for me.” 

Piñeiro mentioned that he’s still getting used to the adjustments that come with kicking in colder temperatures – which may help explain some of his more recent lackluster kickoffs. It’s easy to see how a nationally-televised game in unusually pleasant conditions could have been a trap for a young player who’s maybe pressing a bit, but after getting the full Bears Kicker Experience stuffed into half a season, Piñeiro knows better. 

“In my opinion, you’ve got to play well in every single game,” he said. “[it’s] not like just because you’re on national TV, you’ve got to play better. It felt good to get out there and hit a couple kicks.” 

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