The Chicago Bears are going to have much more firepower in their 2023 offense than they did last season, having added pass-catchers D.J. Moore, Tyler Scott and Robert Tonyan Jr. to their roster since the start of the offseason. Apparently, though, one analyst believes that could be a bad thing for them.
Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine concocted a list of so-called “shocking” trades he believes the Bears should make before the start of the 2023 season, including deals to acquire defensive tackle Grover Stewart and running back Saquon Barkley — who both play positions where the Bears made numerous additions during the past few months.
As the last item on his list, though, Ballentine raised the subject of the Bears potentially trading starting tight end Cole Kmet — whose contract expires after the 2023 season — and said he believes Chicago “should be willing to listen” if another team is interested in paying for his services during the final year of his rookie contract.
“Kmet only saw 69 targets [in 2022] after seeing 93 the year prior,” Ballentine wrote. “It’s hard to envision the 24-year-old improving on that number in Chicago in 2023. The addition of D.J. Moore gives the Bears a target magnet deserving of a high-volume role. Then, [quarterback Justin] Fields still has to get Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool involved. Add in the fact that the Bears signed Robert Tonyan in free agency, and Kmet might be more valuable to another team.”
Cole Kmet Too Important to 2023 Plan to Trade Away
On the surface, Kmet meets certain criteria for a player who could be on the trade block. He is a young player coming off a big season, having led the Bears in receptions (50), receiving yards (544) and receiving touchdowns (seven) in 2022. He is also looking for a contract extension from a front office that did not originally draft him in 2020, which has led to player departures in the past for both the Bears and other NFL teams.
Trading Kmet right now, though? It would be contrary to the roster-building approach that general manager Ryan Poles has taken throughout the 2023 offseason.
Kmet is one of the only reliable weapons from last season returning for the 2023 campaign, meaning he is one of the few players who has established a meaningful amount of chemistry with Fields and understands the inner workings of Luke Getsy’s offensive system. While Ballentine is correct in assuming Moore and Claypool — as well as Tonayn and fourth-round rookie Tyler Scott — will create more opportunities for Fields to spread the ball out in 2023, it does not render Kmet useless by any means.
The Bears’ tight end position would also be much shakier without Kmet, even with Tonyan in the picture. The acquisition of Tonyan gave Chicago two pass-catching options from the position who both have proven experience as blockers as well, but take one out and the only remaining options are Stephen Carlson (six career catches for 62 yards) Jake Tonges (three career offensive snaps) and Chase Allen (two career snaps).
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Poles seems to be pretty high on Kmet’s long-term value.
“I thought Cole did a really good job,” Poles said in his end-of-season press conference in January. “I thought he elevated his game from the film that I watched last year to what it was this year, so that’s exciting.”
Bears Won’t Have Many Preseason Trade Candidates
If there are any more trades before the start of the 2023 season that involve the Bears, it seems more likely that they would be acquiring a useful piece instead shipping one out. Part of the reason why is because, frankly, there are not many players currently on their 90-man roster who make much sense to move on from, even if they have value.
Eddie Jackson’s name has been mentioned among the speculation a bit, as the Bears could create heaps of cap space (more than $13 million in each of the two seasons, per Over the Cap) if they traded him after June 1. But considering Jackson had a strong season for the Bears in 2022 before he suffered a season-ending injury and that Chicago has no realistic option on the roster for replacing him, it is foolish to even consider.
Other contract-seeking players, such as Mooney and Claypool, could potentially turn into trade chips for the Bears, but it seems like a midseason decision at the earliest — and that would only be once the key contributors have been more specifically defined.
Of all the players on their 90-man roster, the one who makes the most sense for a potential trade is cornerback Kindle Vildor. The 2020 fifth-round pick is heading into a contract year like Mooney, Claypool, Kmet and defensive end Trevis Gipson, but he is competing for reps in a crowded cornerback room that has added three draft picks — Kyler Gordon, Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith — in the past two offseasons.
If the Bears lock up top cornerback Jaylon Johnson on a long-term extension, they might be interested in shopping around Vildor toward the end of training camp to see if there is any value they can gain from a player who seems unlikely to return after 2023.