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Chicago Bears 2017 Free Agent Options: Tight End

A thorough examination of the top tight ends who will soon hit the NFL open market, players who could solidify one of the least-stable positions on the Chicago Bears roster.

The Chicago Bears have a very good starting tight end. In fact, Zach Miller is arguably one of the Top 10 tight ends in the league.

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Miller graded as the 7th best tight end overall in 2016, and the 5th best run-blocking tight end. He finished with career highs in receptions (47) and receiving yards (486), with 4 TDs, and he did it all in just 10 games.

But that's the problem with Miller, he's unreliable physically. He missed six games last season and ended the year on IR. Other than his solid 2015 campaign, Miller hasn't stayed healthy for 15 games since 2010. He played just four total games between 2011-2014, so his injury history is lengthy and all-consuming.

When on the field, Miller can ball, but he's rarely on the field and he's 32.

Miller has one more year on his contract but the Bears need to find a long-term option at tight end this off-season.

With that in mind, here are the top free agent tight ends who will hit the open market on March 9.

Martellus Bennett, Patriots (Age: 30)

Bennett is one of the better all-around tight ends in the league but he long ago wore out his welcome in Chicago. The Bears are as likely to bring back Bennett as they are Jeremiah Ratliff.

Jack Doyle, Colts (27)

Alongside Dwayne Allen, Doyle was part of a two-headed tight-end attack in Indianapolis, posting 59 catches for 584 yards and 5 TDs. As a full-time No. 1 option, he could far surpass those numbers. He doesn't offer much as an edge blocker but Doyle has a ton of untapped potential as a pass catcher, and he's only 27.

Luke Wilson, Seahawks (27)

Wilson is a four-year veteran who has been under-utilized in Seattle, particularly the last two seasons playing behind Jimmy Graham. He's 6-5, 252 and has demonstrated play-making ability as a receiver. Many believe he just needs an opportunity and he could flourish as a No. 1 option. Wilson will come very cheap and would be worth a look given his age and upside.

Jared Cook, Packers (30)

Cook has posted some solid numbers throughout his career but there's always been the feeling he could have produced at an even higher level. Effort and consistency have dogged him since his time in Tennessee but when he's on his game, Cook is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. He's 30 and will be looking to cash in on his strong playoff performance against the Giants, so the Bears might want to look in a younger, more reliable direction.

Jermaine Gresham, Cardinals (29)

The Bears tried to sign Gresham last off-season but he chose to return to the Cardinals. An accomplished NFL receiver, Gresham regressed as a blocker last season. He still posted 37 catches for 391 yards but it's clear the 29-year-old's best days are behind him. At the right price, Gresham still makes sense as a No. 2 but if he's looking for more than the veteran minimum, the Bears should pass.

Ryan Griffin, Texans (27)

Griffin caught 50 passes for 442 yards in an anemic Texans passing offense last season. He won't hurt you as an edge blocker and still has room to develop. Griffin is an economical option who carries some upside.

Anthony Fasano, Titans (32)

Fasano is well past his prime and caught just 8 passes last year. He's no longer a weapon in the passing game but Fasano played 16 games last year and graded as the top run-blocking tight end in the NFL, per PFF. The Bears will be looking to ride Jordan Howard and the run game next season and Fasano could bring a lot of value as an extra edge blocker, at a bargain-basement price.

Gavin Escobar, Cowboys (26)

The Cowboys invested a second-round pick in Escobar in 2013, then sat him behind Jason Witten for four years and never used him. A top-tier pass-catching tight end coming out of San Diego State, Escobar has just 30 career catches, or less than eight per season. If placed in a more-prominent role, there's a chance he could shine.

Dion Sims, Dolphins (26)

Sims posted career highs in catches (26) and receiving TDs (4) last season. He's not great in any one area but he could serve as a viable No. 2 pass-catching option and, at just 26, there could be room for further development.

The Pick: Jack Doyle

The Bears need a young, reliable tight end and Doyle checks both boxes. He also has four years experience in the NFL playing in a high-powered offense, so he brings veteran savvy along with his his upside.

Doyle won't kill you as a blocker, while as a receiver he can be deadly between the hashes and in the end zone. Doyle served as Andrew Luck's security blanket last year and could do the same for the young passer the Bears will surely select in this year's draft.

If Doyle is too costly, then Escobar would be a great Plan B.


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