Tight end was one of the most productive positions for the Chicago Bears in 2014.
Bears TE Martellus Bennett stood out as one of the NFL’s best last season. His 90 catches lead the entire league.
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Despite the successful season, Bennett has been the Bears’ biggest holdout at OTAs this offseason. This is more thank likely due to the fact that his contract averages just over $5 million per year. That number ranks 13th among tight ends.
Pitta has played just seven games over the last two seasons for head coach John Harbaugh and has caught over 40 passes just once in his five-year career. He also gets 50 percent of his $32 million contract guaranteed, while Bennett’s guarantees just 25 percent of his 4-year, $20 million contract.
Below Bennett is Celek, who has caught just 64 passes in the last four years, despite starting 30 of 32 games. In comparison, Bennett has caught 155 catches in that time, surpassing Celek’s two-year total in both 2013 and 2014. Celek is guaranteed just under $10 million over the next two years–almost doubling the guaranteed money that Bennett gets over his entire contract.
So, with all that said, Bennett’s frustration with the organization is understandable. According to Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune, he has already lost out on the $100,000 offseason workout bonus. If Bennett skips out on the mandatory minicamp on June 16-18, the Bears can dock upwards of $72,920 off his salary.
When asked if he expects Bennett to be at the minicamp, head coach John Fox told Briggs that he would “prefer him to be (at the minicamp),”
But Bennett’s absence is not taking Fox’s focus off of what needs to be done right now.
Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett (83) before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
“Right now, we’re putting all of our energy and focus on the guys who are (at the minicamp).” Fox said.
The Bears currently have seven other tight ends on the roster, but none seem like they could serve as reliable starters on this team. Of the seven players, the tight end with the most career receptions is veteran Dante Rosario with 116. But in two years with Chicago he ha caught just seven passes, and has had just one season with over 30 catches since entering the NFL in 2007.
A name that sticks out in the free-agent market is Zach Miller (no, not the Zach Miller that sits on the team’s current roster). That Zach Miller is a sixth-year, sixth-rounder who hasn’t caught a pass in the NFL in almost four years.
This Zach Miller has caught over 300 passes in his career with both the Seahawks and Oakland Raiders, playing four years on each team–most recently in Seattle. After catching over 40 passes each season with Oakland, he fell short of 40 catches each year with the Seahawks.
Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Zach Miller (86) is pursued by Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Miller was cut by Seattle in the beginning of March because of a failed physical (he underwent two ankle surgeries in 2014), so he is definitely prone to injury.
If healthy, Miller could realistically become an effective part of the Chicago offense. But that’s a big “if”. The good thing about the signing of Miller would be that he would likely be signed to the veteran minimum (or close to it), making the move a low-risk decision.
Another player that is available is unrestricted free agent tight end Jermaine Gresham, but it would be unlikely that the Bears could snatch him up. They would have to invest too much money into his contract, plus the New Orleans Saints seem to be favorites to land him. Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports reported that he visited the Saints on Wednesday. With the departure of Graham, the Big Easy would be a prime destination for Gresham.
All of this really only becomes relevant if Bennett forces the hand of general manager Ryan Pace and gets himself traded, or if he somehow gets released.
Regardless of what happens with Bennett, it would be wise for the Bears to sign Zach Miller to the veteran minimum. If the Bennett situation goes away, he would serve as a solid backup if he can stay healthy.
If Bennett, for some reason, is not in a Bears uniform come Week 1, then Chicago would have two players to go to who have plenty of experience in Miller and Rosario.
The tight end position could be very successful this year, but if problems between Bennett and the organization continue, it could get ugly.
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