Trey Burton had a bad 2019. The Chicago Bears‘ tight end battled injuries all season, playing in just eight games, starting five. He caught 14 passes all of last year, his lowest total since his sophomore season. Burton had a promising start with the Bears in 2018, catching 54 passes for 569 yards, while scoring six touchdowns, which was second on the team.
As a unit in 2019, Bears’ tight ends were among the league’s worst. They caught 36 passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns, neither of which were scored by Burton or Adam Shaheen, the team’s top two listed in the depth chart. This lack of production is concerning, and is largely why general manager Ryan Pace went out and signed veteran Jimmy Graham to a two-year, $16 million contract with the hopes of giving the position a boost.
Graham is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in Green Bay, but he wasn’t a particularly good fit in Matt LaFleur’s offense. He thinks he will have a better fit awaiting him in Chicago in Matt Nagy’s offense, but Graham’s greatest contribution could be what his presence will mean for Trey Burton.
Burton Has Benefitted From Having Another Strong Tight End in the Lineup Before
When Burton had another tight end in the lineup other teams had to account for, he performed very well. Look at his time in Philadelphia when Zach Ertz was the featured tight end. When Ertz took over starting duties in 2016, Burton began to flourish in Philadelphia. He went from having four targets in his first two seasons (2014-15) to having 91 targets in 2016-17, which was largely because he hadn’t played much at all, but the presence of Ertz really opened things up for Burton. Not being the only go-to guy at the position will likely help him again next season.
Graham caught 38 passes for 447 yards and three scores in his down year last season — which was better than what the Bears did as a unit at the position in 2019. His presence alone will make defenses have to account for him, which in turn will free Burton up a bit. Old as he is, Graham will still be a definite upgrade over Adam Shaheen, and he will provide the big-bodied target the team thought they were getting with former second-round bust Shaheen.
Burton has good hands, and he is a very solid route-runner. If he can get some favorable matchups because the defense is focusing on Graham, look for Burton to have the breakout season many thought he’d have in 2019.
There’s also the Foles Factor to consider.
The Foles Factor
Quarterback Nick Foles is now a member of the Chicago Bears, and if he should beat Mitchell Trubisky out for the starting job, as many project he will, he’ll be under center, which could also benefit Burton. Burton and Foles are two-thirds of the “Philly Special” crew, having worked together for two seasons in Philadelphia. They had good chemistry when they last played together in 2017, and that shouldn’t change now.
Should Trubisky win the starting job, Foles, who is known as an excellent and supportive backup, will also be there to provide insight and be a teacher to Trubisky.
Some seem to think the Bears will let Burton go prior to the season. Chicago would take a dead-cap hit of $7.5 million of they let him walk, and that’s very likely not going to happen. What’s likely is that Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy want Graham to push and challenge Burton moving forward. Graham is 33 and immediately became the oldest member of the team when he signed last month. Pace was also likely considering Graham’s durability when he inked him — Graham hasn’t missed more than 10 games in a season since 2012.
This is all moot if Burton cannot stay healthy, of course, but 2019 was his only injury-plagued season as a pro, so there’s reason to hope. Regardless, it will be intriguing to see Graham’s impact on Burton when the two take the field together.