After claiming six players off the NFL’s waiver wire on August 31, including 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood, the Chicago Bears are releasing several players, including defensive back Duke Shelley, veteran linebacker Joe Thomas, offensive lineman Zach Thomas and defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga.
The Bears confirmed they also placed linebacker Caleb Johnson on waivers, while also placing wide receiver Tajae Sharpe on season-ending injured reserve with an injury to his ribs. Cuts were expected after Chicago claimed six players off the waiver wire on August 31. In addition to Leatherwood, the Bears added former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Armon Watts, former New York Jets tight end Trevin Wesco, undrafted free agent defensive backs Josh Blackwell and Sterling Weatherford, and UDFA defensive end Kingsley Jonathan.
Insider Adam Jahns of The Athletic called Tonga’s release “a surprise,” noting the young defensive lineman has been getting several snaps with the starters throughout training camp and the preseason.
Armon Watts Signing Left Tonga on the Outs
The addition of Watts left little room for Tonga, who was a better fit in the former regime’s 3-4 defense than he was in new head coach Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 defense. The defensive ends currently on Chicago’s roster are: the newly-added Jonathan, returning veteran and sack leader Robert Quinn, Al-Quadin Muhammad, rookie Dominique Robinson and Trevis Gipson, and defensive tackles include Watts, Angelo Blackson, Mike Pennel Jr. and Justin Jones.
Watts, who turned 26 years old in July, played 255 run defense snaps and 414 pass rush snaps for Minnesota last year, finishing with 33 total pressures, six QB hits, 22 hurries and 5.0 sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
A sixth-round selection for Minnesota in 2019, Watts has played in 40 games over his first three seasons in the league, starting 10 games, so he has far more experience than Tonga, who is also 26 years old.
Tonga, a seventh-round selection for the Bears in 2021, wound playing quite a bit as a rookie, appearing in 15 games with two starts. In 216 defensive snaps, Tonga collected 24 total tackles (one for loss) while also recovering a fumble (stats via Pro Football Reference). We’ll see if he winds back up on the practice squad, or whether another team scoops him up.
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Sharpe Is Done for Year After Missing Final 2 Preseason Games
The Bears added Sharpe in free agency, and he began training camp on the non-football injury (NFI) list. He re-joined the lineup, but after a few memorable plays, including a toe-tapping sideline grab in Chicago’s first preseason win against the Kansas City Chiefs, he disappeared again.
Sharpe, 27, has played for three different teams since entering the league in 2016: the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. Hopefully, he can fully recover and find a new place to play next year.
With Sharpe gone, the Bears have the following wideouts on their roster: Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry, who is expected to be sidelined with an ankle injury until at least October, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones Jr. and Dante Pettis.
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