Bears Bring Back 3 Key Free Agents, Including 2021 Starter

Jesper Horsted

Getty Tight end Jesper Horsted is one of three exclusive rights free agents the Bears are bringing back.

The Chicago Bears are bringing back three familiar faces: tight end Jesper Horsted, center Sam Mustipher, and offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons.

The Bears announced on March 8 they had tendered one-year contracts to all three players, who were all exclusive free agents (ERFAs). As Bears official website writer Larry Mayer noted, exclusive rights free agents “are players with two or fewer accrued NFL seasons who can only negotiate and sign with their original team.”

When new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus took over in January, it was unclear which players they would keep which ones they’d let walk. This move tells us Eberflus and company want to see more from each of these young players, all of whom are 25 or younger..

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Horsted Developed Solid Connection With QB Justin Fields Last Year

An undrafted free agent out of Princeton, Horsted signed with the Bears in 2019. He made the practice squad that year and was elevated to the active roster for six games, catching eight passes on 10 targets for 87 yards and a score.

He spent the entire 2020 season on the practice squad, and he made the active roster last season after a memorable preseason that saw him lead the NFL in receiving scores (3), all of which he hauled in during one game:

Horsted would up playing just six snaps on offense in 2021, but he made the most of it, catching two passes on three targets — both of which were touchdowns. The 25-year-old tight end also developed a solid chemistry with rookie quarterback Justin Fields, leaving some wondering why he didn’t get more playing time with veteran Jimmy Graham, who struggled to make an impact all season.

Horsted also played 92 snaps on special teams last season. Hopefully, Poles and Eberflus give him a chance to show what he can do with Fields, as the talented tight end displayed excellent hands and was a legitimate red zone threat during his limited opportunities.

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Bears Looking at What Mustipher & Simmons Have to Offer on OL

Another UDFA, Mustipher made the practice squad in 2019 before making the 53-man roster the following season, when he played in nine games and started seven. He started all 17 games for the Bears at center last season, playing 100% of the team’s offensive snaps. In those 1,121 snaps, he allowed 1.0 sacks, three QB hits and 28 total pressures, earning a 51.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.

The 25-year-old center struggled mightily at times in 2021, getting flagged five times while often getting overmatched by elite defensive linemen.

Simmons, 25, played his college ball at Tennessee State, and he was a seventh-round pick for the Bears (227th overall) in 2020. He made the practice squad as a rookie, and despite being elevated to the active roster later that year, he didn’t see the field. In 2021, he played sparingly, appearing in two games last season, starting one.

Now, the team’s new regime will see what it has in these three young players.

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