The Bears are going to take a long, hard look at the makeup of their tight end room this offseason. Trey Burton, who's teetering on joining a growing list of free-agent busts signed by GM Ryan Pace since 2015, will be back because of his cap hit, but the rest of the depth chart offers more questions than answers moving forward.
Adam Shaheen, 2017's second-round pick, has likely played his last down in Chicago. He's regressed in his third season with the team and after an injury-plagued start to his career, it appears time to move on. Special teams standout Ben Braunecker is likely to be back, but he offers little upside beyond the game's third phase. J.P. Holtz and undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted have been pleasant surprises and may develop into the team's future at the position, but it's a risky proposition to rely on two players who were fringe-NFL guys at the start of the season.
It's highly unlikely Pace will invest more free-agent dollars into tight end because of the hefty paycheck being cut to Burton. He'll have an $8.55 million cap hit in 2020, which ranks among the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL. As a result, Pace will be forced to dip into the 2020 NFL draft class to upgrade the talent level.
Fortunately for the Bears, the second round is where this year's top tight ends are expected to come off the board. In fact, Pace may end up having his pick of the litter if ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's prospect rankings bear out.
McShay, who teamed with Mel Kiper, Jr. to answer the 30 biggest questions at the start of the NFL draft season, doesn't have a tight end with a first-round grade. His highest-rated player at the position just happens to be in the range where the Bears' first selection currently sits.
"Over the past three years, there has been an average of two first-round tight ends, and Iowa's T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were both top-20 picks last April," McShay wrote. "But don't expect a repeat. No one has really emerged this season like Hockenson, Fant and even Irv Smith Jr. did in 2018. The highest-ranked tight end in my rankings is Vanderbilt's Jared Pinkney at No. 49. Unless we see an underclassman rise through the process, I don't see a first-rounder in this group."
The Bears currently own the 45th pick (from Raiders) and 50th pick in the second round.
The bad news is Pinkney isn't the kind of pass-catcher the Bears are searching for Matt Nagy's offense. But the good news is there are a few players in this year's class who offer some upside as a receiver (we'll have a complete breakdown over the coming months). And if Pinkney is considered the best of the bunch, the Bears should have little trouble adding a player who fits their needs at a good value later in the draft.
Maybe Horsted will do enough over the final three games to convince Pace that Chicago already has its young ascending tight end on the roster. But if he doesn't, the Bears will have plenty of options to choose from in April.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.