Less than a week prior to the 2020 NFL Draft, it has been reported that the Chicago Bears are going to release starting tight end Trey Burton after two seasons with the team, per NFL insider Ian Rapoport. Burton had a solid 2018 season with the team before playing in eight games in 2019 and ultimately ending up on the injured reserve list.
Chicago signed Burton to a four-year, $32 million contract in 2018, and he was supposed to be the team’s future at the position. The Bears would save a little over $1 million in cap space by releasing Burton now, per NFL analyst Field Yates. But instead, Chicago will officially release Burton after June 1, according to Adam Jahns, which saves them more money against the salary cap, freeing up $2.8 million. Burton had 54 catches for 569 yards and six touchdowns in 2018, but he never got anywhere close to being on the field regularly after that.
Should Burton sign with another team, whatever they pay him would come off of what the Bears would still owe him. Burton may not have much of a market, and Chicago may still be on the hook for $7.5 million of his contract, per Adam Jahns of The Athletic. The Bears releasing Burton seems like a bit of a surprise, especially considering that had they waited it out and let him go after the 2020 season, they’d be on the hook for just $1.75 million instead of the $7.5 million.
NBC Sports’ J.J. Stankevitz noted he doubted the Bears would release Burton without having a pretty solid grip on his current physical state. Thus, it’s quite possible Chicago doesn’t trust him being healthy enough to move forward with him.
Trey Burton Injury History: Being Off the Field Hurt Him & the Team
Burton played in all 16 regular season games in his first year with the Bears in 2018, but when the team’s first playoff game in nearly 10 years came up — a Wild Card matchup against Burton’s former team, the Philadelphia Eagles — Burton came down with a mysterious groin injury after a full week of practice. He had offseason sports hernia surgery early in 2019, and spent the bulk of last year recovering. Burton played in eight games last year, starting just five, dealing with hip, groin, and calf in juries. His absence was a primary reason why the Bears had one of the worst tight end rooms in the NFL last year.
When he was asked about Burton’s recovery from during the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, Bears GM Ryan Pace was non-committal, yet he sounded hopeful. “It’s been positive,” Pace said of Burton’s recovery. “Our hope is that we finally kinda solved the issue and that there’s an upward trajectory now with him. That’s our hope. We’ll see when the players get back in April.”
Based on Pace’s comments, it seems as though Burton may never have gotten to where the team had hoped he would. New tight end Jimmy Graham may also have something to do with the team’s decision. The Bears signed Graham to a two-year, $16 million deal last month, leading some to speculate Burton’s days may be numbered.
Does This Mean Bears Will Snag a TE in Second Round of 2020 Draft?
Burton’s exit very likely means Cole Kmet, Adam Trautman, or another of the nation’s top tight ends may soon find himself in a Bears uniform. Graham became the oldest member of the Chicago Bears when he signed with the team, and he is in no way the team’s future at the position. The Bears have two second-round picks this year — No. 43 and No. 50 — and it now looks like more of a sure thing they’ll be grabbing a tight end with one of those picks.
Burton’s exit also leaves a very intriguing battle for depth in the Bears tight ends room. Demetruis Harris, Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted, and J.P. Holtz will all be battling for spots on the roster behind Graham and the likely second-round pick. It would be a shock if former second-round bust, Adam Shaheen, is still on the team in August.