By mid-season last year, it was clear the Chicago Bears needed to part ways with Martellus Bennett. After a contentious season involving numerous clashes between Bennett and the team, it was no surprise when the Bears announced they had traded the tight end to New England.
Bennett's attitude earned him a ticket out of town, yet his on-field production will be sorely missed. He was a solid edge blocker and just two years ago caught 90 passes for 916 yards.
The Bears will head into training camp later this month trying to cobble together a dependable three-man tight end group, which many considered the thinnest position on the roster.
It will be no small task, especially considering the overall lack of production from Chicago's current tight end corps.
With that in mind, let's break down in detail each of the tight ends who will be present in Bourbonnais.
Before last year's season opener, Zach Miller had not participated in a regular-season NFL game since Week 6 of 2011. Injuries robbed Miller of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons, as well as 10 games from 2011.
He was a has-been, a player whose once-promising career had been cut short by numerous injuries. When the Bears invited Miller to camp last year, no one was expecting much. In fact, finishing the preseason healthy would've been considered a minor miracle.
The Bears sat Miller for most of the preseason - he did not catch a single pass in the four contests - which kept him healthy for the regular season. Yet after catching just three passes through the first eight weeks of the season, Miller remained an afterthought for Chicago's offense.
It was then that Bennett's relationship with the team began to unravel and Miller capitalized on the opportunity. He caught a one-handed game-winning touchdown in Week 9 against the Chargers, then posted 5 catches for 107 yards and 2TDs the following week against the Rams.
Suddenly, Miller was a viable option in the Bears' passing attack, which made Bennett expendable. Miller finished the year with 34 catches for 439 yards and a team-high 5 TD receptions. His 439 receiving yards equaled Bennett, yet Miller did it with 19 fewer receptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Miller was graded the 6th best tight end in the league last year.
Miller tested the free-agent waters this off-season but ultimately re-signed with the Bears on a two-year deal.
In terms of pure pass-catching prowess, Miller showed last season he has the ability to be the club's No. 1 tight end. He has good size (6-5, 240), speed, hands and after-the-catch ability, as well as a knack for big plays.
He's not a top-tier blocker but Miller did improve in that area last season, so he won't necessarily have to come off the field on run downs.
There's no doubt that, even at 31 years old, he's capable of being a reliable pass catcher for offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterback Jay Cutler. If Miller stays healthy this year, the Bears will get production and consistency from the tight end position.
Yet injuries are always going to be a concern for him. He played 15 games last year for the first time since 2010, so is it reasonable to expect another full season out of Miller, who at one point missed 58 straight games because of injury?
Miller is a quality option but it's more a matter of "when" not "if" he'll get injured this year.
Housler was signed as a free agent in Week 14 last season. The five-year veteran spent his first four NFL seasons with the Cardinals, then signed in Cleveland last season, where he played five games.
For the Bears he caught three passes for 27 yards. Due to injuries Housler got the start in the season finale and hauled in two passes for 18 yards.
Housler has had some success in his career. In 2012 he caught 45 passes for 417 yards, and in 2013 he caught 39 passes for 454 yards and 1 TD. In his other three seasons, he's combined for just 25 catches, so he's a low-floor, low-ceiling player, who isn't consistent as a blocker.
Housler isn't a special player but he's one of the frontrunners for Chicago's primary backup role heading into camp. He split time between the first and second team during OTAs, yet sat out all of veteran minicamp with with an undisclosed injury.
The Bears traded a sixth-round pick to the Texans during the preseason last year to acquire Lee, who had been signed just a few months earlier as an undrafted free agent.
It was a puzzling move at the time but one that looks even worse following a rookie year in which Lee had very little impact. He played just 130 snaps and caught 1 pass for 7 yards.
Lee was used primarily in a blocking role and he wasn't a liability, yet he doesn't have the frame (6-4, 235) to be a force in the run game. Bigger and/or faster edge defenders give him fits.
Still, Lee is in the running with Housler for the primary backup spot. With Housler sidelined during minicamp, Lee took first-team reps alongside Miller.
Lee has the body of a pass catcher but hasn't shown the skill set to match, while he's lacks the size and power as a blocker to move the pile at the point of attack. He'll get the benefit of the doubt heading into camp due to his price tag but Lee will have a lot to prove in August.
An undrafted free agent out of Missouri State last year, Sinclair spent most of his rookie season on Chicago's practice squad.
He's 6-7, 270 and is much more a blocker than a pass catcher. He'll be given an opportunity in camp to claim the club's blocking tight end role.
Sinclair isn't an accomplished pass catcher but his height gives him value in the red zone. He caught just 18 passes his senior season, yet seven of them went for touchdowns. If he can use his size to be a bulldozer in the run game, while maybe catching a preseason TD to boot, Sinclair could land the third tight end spot.
Braunecker is a 6-4, 240-pound undrafted free agent out of Harvard who signed with the Bears shortly following the 2016 NFL Draft.
Braunecker - who studied infectious disease at Harvard Medical School the last two years - posted 48 catches for 850 yards and 8 TDs his senior season. He then showed very well at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, finishing at or near the top of his position in every drill, including a 4.73 40-yard dash, 20 bench-press reps and a 35.5-inch vertical jump.
Yet Braunecker somehow fell out of the draft and landed in a city where he has a decent shot at making the final 53-man roster. He clearly has top-tier athleticism and intelligence, and will be given every opportunity to claim that backup role.
During rookie minicamp, he made a handful of plays in the passing game, yet Braunecker failed to stand out during veteran minicamp. He didn't show great straight-line speed or burst out of his breaks. His hands appear to be reliable and he did make a nice diving grab down the seam, so there's clearly some upside.
Braunecker is the wildcard among the group battling for the backup spot. He might have the highest ceiling of the bunch, so if he can make a few plays over the next couple of months, the future doctor should earn a spot on Chicago's final 53.
After two years as a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, Scruggs signed with the Bears in Week 17 last season. Despite playing defensive line his entire collegiate and professional career, Scruggs is making the switch to tight end this year.
Due to his inexperience at the position, it's hard to project Scruggs' potential at tight end. He's 6-3, 310, so he's clearly not going to be asked to catch many passes, so his best chance of making the team is as an edge blocker.
He's essentially the size of an offensive guard, so Scruggs could be a major weapon as Chicago's "monster" tight end.
Moeaki (6-3, 250) was a third-round pick of the Chiefs in 2010 who had 47 catches for 556 yards and 3 TDs his rookie season. His missed all of 2011 after a preseason knee injury landed him on IR. He bounced back in 2012, catching 33 passes for 453 yards and 1 TD.
In 2013, he fractured his shoulder in the preseason and the Chiefs released him. Moeaki has since bounced around the league, playing for three different teams the past three years and catching just 11 total passes.
The Bears brought him to Halas Hall for a tryout during veteran minicamp and he did enough to earn an invite to training camp. Moeki is only 29, so he should still have plenty left in the tank. If he can somehow rekindle his former glory, and avoid injury, there's an outside chance Moeaki could be on the Week 1 roster.
Sommers is listed as a tight end but he played fullback during OTAs and minicamp. You can view my write up on Sommers as a fullback here.null