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Bears TE Trey Burton deserves patience, not vitriol, amid injury trouble

The Bears’ best tight end has become the new scapegoat among the fan base. That’s ridiculous. He’s one of their most irreplaceable players, and he’s worth the wait.

Trey Burton’s first season with the Bears was a strong one, and he’s likely to keep that up once he’s healthy.
AP Photos

Popularity plummets as severely and unexpectedly as the temperature around here, and Bears tight end Trey Burton is feeling an early frost.

Public opinion on Burton nosedived after he missed the wild-card game against the Eagles in January. It dipped again when he was in and out of practices last month and didn’t play in the opener.

It seems that way, at least, but maybe it’s just because sportswriters put too much value on what gets discussed on Twitter.

Hopefully Burton doesn’t.

The hostility being hurled his way is ludicrous. Burton’s injuries have given way to criticism that he’s soft, he’s not that good and the Bears never should have wasted $32 million on him.

Get out of here.

Regardless of whether Burton plays Sunday against the Broncos, which is uncertain because of a strained groin muscle, he’s one of the most irreplaceable players on the roster.

It’s no surprise the Bears don’t have a suitable backup pass-catching tight end, given that most teams have trouble finding one. Burton is in the top 10-15 at his position and is coming off a career-year of 54 catches, 569 yards and six touchdowns. It’s absurd how little patience that has bought him.

He was one of 12 tight ends in the NFL to catch 50 passes last season, so for every team that had a Burton, there were one or two wishing they did. It can be a long wait through the trial and error of hoping for a good tight end in the draft.

The Bears went three decades without a 50-catch tight end before Greg Olsen in 2008.

The argument that Burton, at 27 and just entering his prime, is an asset seems like one that shouldn’t need to be made. And the criticism that he’s frail is even easier to crush.

Burton’s status this week is hard to decipher, but the issue is simple.

He missed a playoff game with a sports hernia that required surgery. It ruined his offseason program, and he said it was worse than breaking his ankle in high school. He missed last week when he wanted to play through a strained muscle, but the medical staff deemed it a bad idea.

“This whole process has been crazy, and I’ve never been through anything like it,” Burton said. “I can’t sit on the bench any longer.”

The only unambiguous part is that the guy wants to play.

Before his two recent absences, Burton played 77 of a possible 80 regular-season games after playing 50 of 51 in college. He made the Eagles’ roster as an undrafted free agent and clawed his way up as a special-teamer.

Burton wouldn’t get accusations of being soft had he not come forward about his battle with anxiety in December.

That’s how it works in sports: They want you to be honest, but it’ll be used against you if they don’t like it or don’t understand. The football world is especially unsympathetic to vulnerability. There will be assumptions every time he misses a game or drops a pass.

When Burton comes back, whether that’s Sunday or a month from now, the Bears will be glad to have him. He’s an absolute necessity in coach Matt Nagy’s offense.

That’s what this is really about: Fans are angry that Burton isn’t giving them what they want, and that justifies ripping him.

There was a thrill when the Bears signed him fresh off the “Philly Special,” and there weren’t many complaints when he was piling up yards and touchdowns last season. It’ll be the same if he gets back to his usual productive self this season. That’s the only antidote to the venom being spewed at him.

That’s a mindless way to form an opinion of someone. Burton can’t will himself to be healthy. If he runs well during pregame warmups, he’ll be back. If he doesn’t, he’s worth the wait.