Chicago Bears May Have to Look Within Roster to Solve Tight End Problem

Andrew DannehyCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2013

LAKE FOREST, IL - MAY 12:  Tight end Evan Rodriguez #88 of the Chicago Bears catches a pass during rookie minicamp at Halas Hall on May 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Rodriguez was the Bears' fourth round pick in the 2012 draft.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

The day after the Bears' season ended, General Manager Phil Emery made clear in a Chicago Tribune article that the team needs to improve on its ability to throw the ball in the middle of the field.

That led many people to think the Bears will be targeting a pass-catching tight end in the offseason, but Emery may be better off sticking with their current tight ends, hoping the new coaching staff can get more out of them.

It isn't coincidence that every team that made the playoffs this year got good production from the tight end position, while the Bears have gotten less than anyone else over the last two seasons, according to the Tribune article. They need improved play from that position, but there is no easy fix.

The free-agent class is relatively weak outside of the New York Giants' Martellus Bennett, who will likely demand more money than the Bears should invest in the position with their obvious flaws on the offensive line. 

Many fans have clamored for them to go after Oakland's Brandon Myers. He caught 79 passes for the Raiders last year but is a horrendous blocker, receiving the worst blocking grade in the league last year. His receiving and blocking combined received a far lower grade than Kellen Davis did on Pro Football Focus, a website Emery uses.

Tennessee's Jared Cook is another popular suggestion, but he's an annual disappointment for the Titans, and that isn't likely to change. It's hard to say if he would even be an upgrade as Davis received a grade 5.6 from Pro Football Focus in 2011almost five full points higher than Cook has received.

The Bears' best free-agent option may be Miami's Anthony Fasano, who has been a great blocker and reliable receiver, but he is expected to return to Miami. The other free agents also have big question marks with injuries or they don't fit what the Bears are looking for.



Some have also suggested the Bears spend an early draft pick on a tight end, but based on the free-agent class, they would be better off trying to build their offensive line and get younger on defense, unless a talented player falls into their laps and they can't pass him up.

There's no need to sugarcoat it: Kellen Davis was awful in 2012. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished second on the team with eight dropped passes, an incredible number considering he caught just 19 and was targeted 44 times. Making matters worse, at least five of his dropped passes came more than 10 yards down the field. However, there's still reason to believe he's capable of much more.

Davis is never going to develop into a Rob Gronkowski-type because he doesn't have natural receiving skills, but he can be a terrific blocker and reliable receiver, as he was in 2011.

Davis has to catch the ball better than he did last year, but that may just have been a one-year funk. He dropped just two of the 33 passes thrown his way in 2011. Bennett was seen in the same light as Davis after dropping seven of his 33 targets in 2009. He improved and is now the top free-agent tight end.

Seeing Davis drop more passes in 2013 may be painful, but not nearly as painful as seeing him reach his potential for another team would be. That said, Davis has a big cap number next year, the kind a player should have to earn, and he did not do that in 2012. 

If he isn't willing to take a pay cut, the Bears still have other options on their roster. Matt Spaeth doesn't provide much in the passing game, but he is a very good blocker—sometimes dominant—and his size makes him a threat in the red zone.



The most interesting name on the Bears' roster is Evan Rodriguez. Although he doesn't have the size you'd like in a tight end, he is less than an inch shorter than New England's Aaron Hernandez, to whom he has been compared. Emery was excited to get Rodriguez in the fourth round of last year's draft and couldn't have expected he would be relegated to a blocking fullback role.

Although he graded out positively as a fullback on Pro Football Focus, Rodriguez can do more. He got off to a fast start in training camp, showing the ability to catch the ball and run good routes. In college, he showed speed and the ability to make plays in the open field after the catch.

If Rodriguez is the player Emery thought he was and Marc Trestman is as good of an offensive mind as his reputation suggests, there should be a greater role for him in 2013.

If neither Davis nor Rodriguez proves to be a capable receiver next season, the Bears will have to find another way to attack the middle of the field. When Emery spoke of the Bears needing to make more big plays, he also mentioned running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Earl Bennett. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall also are capable of dominating between the hashes.

Emery is absolutely right about the Bears needing to make plays in the middle of the field, but he didn't suggest that they don't have the talent on the roster to do it. With a new coaching staff, the Bears should try to get the most out of the players they have, not invest assets that should be spent elsewhere.