In a mostly surprising move this past Friday, the Chicago Bears decided to release tight end Trey Burton after two seasons. Burton signed a four-year, $32 million free-agent contract with the Bears in March 2018 after spending his first four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. After a solid debut season in Chicago, Burton struggled with injuries and saw his production plummet this past season. Reaction from Bears fans following Burton's release has been mixed.
Either way, the Bears had a variety of reasons for letting Burton go. Among them is the fact that the team has decided to proceed with other options at the tight end position and may not be done tinkering with the position heading into 2020. Here are five reasons why Burton is now a free agent.
1. Injury concerns
Before coming to the Bears, Burton was relatively healthy. The plan was to use Burton in the passing game, as a blocker, and even give him a role in the run game. When the Bears hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in that infamous NFC Wild Card game at the conclusion of the 2018 campaign, Burton was a last-minute scratch due to a groin injury that remains mysterious to this day. The belief among the Bears faithful is that Burton could have been a difference-maker had he played.
As soon as that season ended, Burton had sports hernia surgery and missed a good portion of offseason workouts as a result. When the 2019 season kicked off Burton didn't look like his usual self. He lacked explosiveness coming off the line of scrimmage, he wasn't as crisp in his route-running, and he struggled when he tried to block. He also continued to deal with pain and limited mobility, and the Bears ultimately decided to put Burton on injured reserve in November after he played in eight games, making just five starts.
Burton has since had surgery on his hip, and whichever team shows an interest in him now that he's a free agent will obviously want to make sure he's healthy before signing him, especially considering the Bears terminated his contract with a failed physical designation.
2. Lack of production
Even though Burton missed half of the season, he didn't post big numbers when he was on the field. He managed just 14 receptions for 84 yards and no touchdowns last season compared to the career-high numbers (54 rec., 569 yds., 6 TDs) he posted in 2018. He even added a rushing touchdown that season. In six seasons, Burton has amassed 131 catches for 1,282 receiving yards and has totaled 13 touchdowns. It is a shame he's no longer with the Bears, as it means Burton won't be able to throw another touchdown pass to Nick Foles, his former Eagles teammate, this season.
3. The Bears have added new players at the tight end position
The Bears signed both Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris in free agency last month. They also still have Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted, Dax Raymond, J.P. Holtz, Darion Clark, and Eric Saubert on the roster. Then there's the possibility that the Bears could draft a tight end this weekend, not to mention the players that become available after final preseason cuts. Needless to say that the Bears will be evaluating their options over the next few months.
4. Financial relief
Burton was due to make $6.7 million for this upcoming season. Only $4 million was guaranteed, so the Bears will save $2.7 million in salary and also won't have to pay out his $100,000 workout bonus. The team will take on a dead-cap hit of $5.75 million (Burton was designated as a post-June 1 release), but for a team that is already up against the cap ($9.7 million in cap space according to Over The Cap), any space that can be salvaged is a bonus.
5. The Bears are moving in a new direction
In order for the Bears to compete again in 2020, they need both health and production from their tight end position. It would appear as if head coach Matt Nagy wants to use multiple tight ends for various purposes within his offense. Anything is possible if Nagy not only finds the right group of players, but if they also stay healthy. If one thing is for certain it's that Nagy is coming into 2020 with an open mind about the tight end position.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of chicagobears.com)