Like the battle at wide receiver, there was no doubt that tight end was one of the deeper positions on the Chicago Bears’ roster coming into training camp. That still seems to be the case with cuts looming for the 53-man roster.
We know that free agent addition Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen, a former second-round selection in 2017, are locks to make the roster. Burton is expected to fill the “Travis Kelce role” in Matt Nagy’s offense, using his receiver-like speed and agility to make plays in the middle of the field.
Shaheen, on other hand, will use his large 6-foot-6 frame to be a matchup nightmare, especially in the red zone. However, the second-year tight end’s foot and ankle injury leave some questions as to how the depth chart will be handled before Saturday’s deadline.
Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker and Colin Thompson likely came into camp competing for two spots, meaning the Bears would’ve had four tight ends on the depth chart. Nagy told the media Monday that Shaheen is not expected to go on injured reserve. Regardless, Shaheen’s injury might change how many stay on the roster heading into week one.
Of those tight ends on the bubble, here’s who we think makes and misses the 53-man roster.
The magic number: 4 (or 5 if Shaheen is unavailable week one)
1. Dion Sims
When the Bears signed Burton in March, many thought that Sims’ job was in jeopardy. However, Pace chose not to cut Sims, allowing him to earn the majority of his guaranteed base salary. While some fans might be skeptical based on his performance last year, Nagy has said publicly that the tight end’s blocking ability and versatility will work smoothly in his offense. And with Shaheen possibly missing some time, there’s little to no doubt that Sims will get plenty of snaps at the start of the season.
2. Daniel Brown
Brown has been with the Bears since October 2016, and one word best describes him: reliable. There is nothing flashy about the 6-foot-5 tight end, but he always seems to do his job well. He’s a solid blocker but has good hands to match, making him an ideal backup in the U tight-end role. Make no mistake, he’s not a lock to beat out Braunecker for the fourth and final spot. Both have had good performances in the preseason, but we’re giving Brown the nod for the final tight end spot based on his regular-season resume.
1. Ben Braunecker*
You’ll notice the asterisk. That’s because there is a very good chance Braunecker starts the year on the 53-man roster if Shaheen isn’t ready by week one. Despite what Nagy said, Shaheen could end up on injured reserve with a designation to return in six weeks. The other possibility is that the Bears sacrifice depth at another position until he’s healthy, which means the Bears would carry five tight ends on the roster. Either scenario likely will open the door for Braunecker to be on the 53-man roster to start the year.
Braunecker was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and has bounced around from the practice squad to the active roster in his first two seasons. He came in with plenty of hype as a “Gronk-link” tight end based on his pro day performance, but he never really showed it the last two years. However, he’s made some nice plays in the preseason. Aside from his run blocking, he also showed off the quickness and athleticism that was hyped his rookie season.
Depending on how things shake out with Shaheen’s injury, he could stick around on the roster for a while. And when Shaheen returns, will it be Braunecker or Brown that sticks around? For now, we think Brown would have the razor-thin edge.
2. Colin Thompson
Thompson, who was an undrafted free agent last season, joined the Bears’ practice squad when Braunecker was elevated to the active roster in November 2017. He signed a reserve/future contract in January and was likely brought back as a camp body. While he certainly didn’t have any horrifically bad play this preseason, Thompson didn’t outperform Brown or Braunecker and probably won’t make the 53-man roster. However, he is eligible to make the practice squad.