The Chicago Bears are kicking the tires on several free agents, giving tryouts to five interesting names, including a few Spring League standouts. According to top Bears insider Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears are bringing in offensive lineman Tyrone “T.J.” Wheatley Jr., tight end Sal Cannella, ex-Broncos tight end Jake Butt, journeyman defensive back E.J. Gaines and defensive lineman Michael Pennel for tryouts during veteran minicamp this week.
Butt, a former standout at the University of Michigan, may be the most recognizable name on the list. He was a projected second-round pick in 2017 before a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl caused him to fall to the fifth round, where the Broncos selected him. He started three games his rookie season, catching eight passes for 85 yards.
Complications from his ACL tear kept him out of the entire 2019 season, and after playing in five games and catching just two passes in 2020, Denver released him.
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Bears Trying Out 2 Spring League Players
Both Wheatley and Cannella spent time in the Spring League this past year. Both also have a history of playing multiple positions. Wheatley, another former Michigan player, has played both offensive line and tight end. He had a forgettable tenure catching passes as a tight end at Michigan, and he transferred to Stony Brook his senior season, where he didn’t do much at the position, either.
The son of Tyrone Wheatley, Sr., who played for the Giants and Raiders, the younger Wheatley caught on with the Blues in the Spring League, where he moved to offensive line and had more success. He’s listed as an o-lineman on the team’s tryout sheet shared by Biggs, so that’s where he’ll be competing.
Cannella is a local guy, hailing from Schaumburg, Illinois. He played both wide receiver and tight end for two years at Auburn in 2018-19, transferring there in 2017 from Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College. Cannella played in 37 games for the Tigers, catching 25 passes for 330 yards and five touchdowns. He has yet to catch on with an NFL team, but he was a standout in the Spring League for the Generals, where the 6-foot-5, 228- pound tight end established himself as a solid red zone threat.
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Ex-Packers & Ex-Rams Round Out Group
Gaines was a sixth round (188th overall) pick for the L.A. Rams in 2014. A Lisfranc injury cut his second season short, but he came back and had a decent season in 2016, starting 11 games and racking up 59 tackles, three forced fumbles, nine passes defensed and an interception. He had brief stops with the Buffalo Bills in 2017 and with the Cleveland Browns in 2018. He caught on with Buffalo again in 2020, but he opted out of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pennel is a former undrafted free agent who signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2014. He spent his first three seasons in Green Bay, playing in 37 games, starting five. He was released by the Packers in 2017, and he spent the 2017-18 seasons with the New York Jets and the 2019-20 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. With 91 games played and 16 NFL starts, he’s the most experienced of the five trying out this week.