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NFL Free Agency: 15 tight ends who could be game-changers for the Chicago Bears' 2023 Offense

Will DeWitt Avatar
February 26, 2023

The Chicago Bears are gearing up for NFL free agency on March 15, and with the league’s largest budget, they have a prime opportunity to add impact players.

The Chicago Bears already have a talented tight end in Cole Kmet, but they have an opportunity to add even more firepower to their offense. Whether it’s to complement Kmet or provide a more productive backup, signing one of these 15 standout tight ends could elevate the Bears’ offense to new heights in 2023.

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Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys

Dalton Schultz played on the franchise tag for the Dallas Cowboys in 2022. The fifth-year pro and former fourth-round pick finished 11th in the league in catches among tight ends (57) and tied for the seventh-most touchdown receptions (5).

Even though he ranked well, Schultz did have a down year as his production dropped a bit. He had the fewest receptions per game since his 2019 season. Schultz also had 21 fewer receptions and 231 yards less than what he had in 2021. He also had three touchdowns in two games in the playoffs. Speaking of playoffs, the tight end also made two big mistakes on the Cowboys’ final drive of the divisional round loss to the 49ers.

Is Schultz a fit for the Bears?

Schultz would surely “fit” on the Bears, but it may not be the most natural of fits. He’s a capable receiver, and is known for being a solid run blocker in his own right. He may not be the ideal complement to Cole Kmet, but the Bears can surely get creative to get another playmaker on the field.

Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars

After signing a one-year contract last offseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Even Engram set multiple career highs in 2022 with 73 receptions for 766 yards. By all accounts, Engram was a top-five tight end in the league on the year and was a reliable weapon for Trevor Lawrence.

Engram also set a couple team records for the Jaguars for yards by a tight end in a single game and the most receptions by a tight end in a single season. The former 2017 first-round pick was a massive contributor.

Is Engram a fit for the Bears?

Engram would be a welcome addition to the Bears’ offense. It should be noted that Engram is not as good as a blocker as Kmet, and can have an entirely different role that compliments Kmet and bolsters the tight end room. Engram would be the “move” tight end while Kmet can handle the traditional “inline” duties.

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

Although Mike Gesicki has had plenty of production in his young career, he enters the free agency market coming off his least productive season where he posted the lowest numbers since his rookie season with 32 catches, 362 yards and five touchdowns. That’s a far cry from the sort of impact Gesicki was having in his previous three seasons where he averaged 684 yards and 59 catches.

To put it simply, Gesicki was not a great fit for Mike McDaniel’s offense where he was asked to be more of a blocker. If given the opportunity, he can easily become the game-changing player that’s a true threat in the red zone.

Is Gesicki a fit for the Bears?

Like some of the other tight ends on this list, Gesicki can be a fit for the Bears as a compliment to Cole Kmet and would provide the Bears with two dangerous weapons at the position with different skill sets to leverage in different situations to keep defenses off balance.

Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals

Hayden Hurst signed a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals last offseason and has proven to be worth every penny as he’s become a go-to guy for Joe Burrow. Hurst averaged a career-high four receptions per game. Not bad for the 29-year-old playing for his third team.

Hurst isn’t your vertical threat at the position, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a big impact for an offense with his ability to work underneath, find the soft spots in defenses, and be a receiver you can count on in must-have situations.

Is Hurst a fit for the Bears?

Hurst is too similar to Kmet to call him a complement to the current Bears tight end. But at the same time, you can’t have too many reliable weapons for Justin Fields in Year 3. With a weak wide receiver market, perhaps the Bears accept some redundancy and get creative with the tight end position in 2023.

Austin Hooper, Tennessee Titans

Austin Hooper’s role has shifted over the last couple of seasons. Gone are the days of an every-down player. Hooper is now at the stage of his career where he can be seen as a stabilizing veteran presence in the locker room who can also provide quality production in a limited role.

Hooper had a solid season in Tennessee after signing a one-year deal with the Titans last offseason and put up better numbers than his final year in Cleveland the season before. He ranked 21st at the position in catches (41) and yards (411). His 10.8 yards per catch was the 18th most of all tight ends, and the highest mark for Hooper since his rookie season.

Is Hooper a fit for the Bears?

If you look at the two tight ends the Bears signed last offseason, James O’Shaughnessy and Ryan Griffin, it’s easy to see why the Bears could be interested in signing Hooper. He fits the veteran mold and has more production than any other player they had behind Cole Kmet. Hooper would be an upgrade and an excellent depth piece.

Foster Moreau, Las Vegas Raiders

Whether it was playing behind Darren Waller or in his place, Foster Moreau made the most of his opportunities in Las Vegas. Over the last two seasons, Moreau has averaged 31 catches, 397 yards and 2.5 touchdowns. He also boasts an impressive 12.6 yards per catch over his last 32 games.

Moreau is also well known for being a plus blocker. The 2019 fourth-round pick’s main role as a Raider was to be a blocking tight end as Waller’s strength is receiving. But in Waller’s absence, Moreau proved he can be a capable weapon in the passing game, too.

Is Moreau a fit for the Bears?

If the Bears are looking to add another top blocker at the position who can provide more in the passing game than the current players behind Cole Kmet, then yes, Moreau can be a fit for the Bears. If they’re looking to add a top-tier playmaking receiving threat at tight end to pair with Kmet, then the Bears will have to look elsewhere.

Jordan Akins tight end - potential Chicago Bears target.
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans

Jordan Akins has been a valuable asset to the Houston Texans, who drafted him in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He has consistently performed well for the team, catching 70% of his targets despite frequent changes at the quarterback position. Akins has amassed 151 career receptions for 1,755 yards and 8 touchdowns, with 5 of those touchdowns coming in 2022. He had an impressive season, averaging over 13 yards per catch.

Akins has the potential to excel in a favorable offensive scheme, making him a valuable asset to any team. Despite this, he is currently viewed as a high-upside TE2 option. Additionally, his cost-effectiveness, as reported by Spotrac, makes him a financially smart acquisition for any team in need of a tight end.

Is Akins a fit for the Bears?

Adding Akins to the Bears roster would bring valuable consistency to the TE2 complement to Kmet. Akins boasts a high floor and possesses a well-rounded skill set that can meet the demands of the position. Although he may not be an immediate priority, he would make the Bears’ offense better.

Eric Saubert, Denver Broncos

Eric Saubert, a Chicago native, had his best season as a pro in 2022 with 15 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. He was a TE2 for Denver playing behind rookie Greg Dulcich. Over his six seasons, he has played for four teams total including the Broncos and Bears.

Is Saubert a fit for the Bears?

Saubert is pretty far down the list of free agents at the position, and for good reason. Before the 2022 season, he only had 16 catches for 132 yards. He’s primarily an extra blocker, and the Bears can find another tight end with identical blocking prowess that may be able to provide more as a receiver. Plus, the Bears may re-sign Trevon Wesco, which would make Saubert’s return to Chicago that much more unlikely.

MyCole Pruitt, Atlanta Falcons

MyCole Pruitt is coming off a career-best season with the Falcons which was aided by Kyle Pitts going down midway through the season. Stepping up in his place, Pruitt became a reliable target in Atlanta, which is why he ended the year with the most receptions (16), yards (150) and touchdowns (4) he’s ever compiled in a single season.

Pruitt putting together respectable numbers down the stretch is an encouraging sign for the tight end that’s more known for being primarily a blocking tight end.

Is Pruitt a fit for the Bears?

Pruitt was once on the Bears all the way back in 2016, but I’m not too certain that a reunion will be in store as there are better options for the Bears in this free agency class. There are other tight ends with the same, if not better, blocking abilities that can also be bigger contributors as a receiver.

Mitchell Wilcox, Cincinnati Bengals

Mitchell Wilcox has been with the Bengals since the team signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2020. He spent his first year on the practice squad before making the final roster in 2021. He re-signed with the team last offseason after testing the market in free agency. After having three catches for 16 yards in 2021, Wilcox was able to make a jump in production this past season with 17 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown. He hauled in an impressive 94.4% of his targets in the regular season.

Another area that Wilcox can benefit a team is his ability to play on special teams. He’s played 481 snaps on the third phase over the last two years, roughly 56 percent of special teams snaps for the Bengals.

Is Wilcox a fit for the Bears?

Wilcox wouldn’t do much to boost the Bears’ offense. If anything, he’d be a TE3 on the roster with special teams capabilities. He hasn’t shown much to anticipate him being able to be much more than that. He’s not a player you need to look at until the first few waves of free agency subside.

Zach Gentry, Pittsburgh Steelers

Zach Gentry has spent his four years in the league with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being drafted by the team in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. After only seeing one target in his first two seasons, Gentry’s role has significantly increased over his last two with an average of 19 catches and 100 yards per season. He has failed to find the end zone as he does not have a single touchdown in his career thus far.

What Gentry lacks in production, he makes up with his run-blocking ability. He’s more of an “old-school” tight end than the trend of modern players at the position resembling wide receivers more and more.

Is Gentry a fit for the Bears?

Although the Bears would welcome Gentry’s blocking ability, they most likely will want a tight end with more production and better ball skills if they sign one in free agency. Plus, if the Bears end up re-signing Trevon Wesco, there wouldn’t be any need for Gentry’s services.

Geoff Swaim, Tennessee Titans

Geoff Swaim has had a consistent, but not spectacular career with time spent in Dallas, Jacksonville and most recently, Tennessee. He’s not a tight end that will change a game through the air, but he is a player that is very capable of bolstering an offense’s rushing attack with his blocking ability along the edge.

Swaim is only one season removed from his career-high 31 catches and three touchdowns that he had in 2021, but he was primarily used as a blocker in 2022 with Austin Hooper handling the vast majority of the unit’s receiving responsibilities.

Is Swaim a fit for the Bears?

Swaim should not be someone the Bears set out to strongly pursue as his ideal role is TE3 that is called upon in heavy formations to provide extra power in the ground game, and the Bears already had a capable player to handle that role in Trevon Wesco in 2022 who is also a free agent. Already establishing himself and growing within the Bears’ offense, and being slightly younger than Swaim, Wesco would be the superior option.

Brock Wright, Detroit Lions

Brock Wright doesn’t have any mind-bending numbers in his two years in the league, but that is what happens when you’re playing behind T.J. Hockenson for most of your career. As soon as Hockenson was traded to the Vikings, Wright’s role increased and the production followed. He hauled in 66% of his targets and compiled four touchdowns in the final 10 games of the season.

It should be noted that Wright is an exclusive-rights free agent. But if he hits the open market, Wright will have his suitors as teams are surely impressed with how he stepped up and answered the call after being thrust into the starting role.

Is Wright a fit for the Bears?

Wright is a decent blocker and proved that he can be a reliable weapon through the air. The question of the offseason will be whether or not Wright can improve on and build upon the success he found in the second half of the 2022 season. The good news is that if he signs with the Bears and plays behind Cole Kmet, he won’t have the pressure to be a top guy on an offense and can thrive within a role.

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

Irv Smith Jr. is a young and talented tight end that has had a hard time staying healthy throughout his career. After posting five touchdowns and 365 receiving yards in 2020, Smith has had a hard time staying on the field as he missed the entire 2021 season after undergoing surgery. He then had to miss roughly half of the 2022 season after suffering a high ankle sprain in late October.

Still, teams will be looking to sign Smith due to his age and potential. At just 24, there is plenty of time for Smith to have a successful career if he can stay healthy. He has the talent, most of which may not have been tapped into yet.

Is Smith a fit for the Bears?

Smith won’t break the bank this offseason, and the Bears would benefit from having another young tight end on the roster, especially with the potential Smith possesses. If he can put his injuries behind him, Smith and Cole Kmet would be a very strong 1-2 punch at the tight end position. And if he plays up to his potential, Justin Fields will have another playmaker to work with to attack defenses.

Robert Tonyan Jr., Green Bay Packers

After his 11-touchdown season in 2020 that turned heads, Robert Tonyan has been unable to provide that sort of elite production since with only four touchdowns over his last 25 games. However, he was a consistent and reliable player for the Packers in 2022 with 53 catches for 470 yards. According to PFF, Tonyan caught 84.1% of his targets, which was the third-best of all tight ends and the highest percentage among tight ends with 35+ targets.

Is Tonyan a fit for the Bears?

Tonyan would provide the Bears with another tight end that has a track record of solid production, but his skill set is too similar to Kmet’s. By bringing in Tonyan, the Bears wouldn’t be providing Fields with something new.

Wrapping Up

In summary, the Chicago Bears have a chance to make a big splash in NFL free agency and improve their offense in 2023. By adding one of these 15 talented tight ends to their roster, they could create a dynamic duo or find a reliable backup that can help take their game to the next level. General manager Ryan Poles will have some tough decisions to make, but the potential payoff could be huge for the Bears.

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