After two up-and-down years, the Bears are done with tight end Trey Burton.
He went from being a key piece of their offense to a player constantly derailed by injuries, and the Bears released him Friday. The move comes after they signed former All-Pro Jimmy Graham and as they eye tight ends in the upcoming draft.
Burton, 28, signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Bears and immediately rewarded them with a career year in 2018. He missed the playoff game at the end of that season because his groin muscle “completely locked” up on him the night before and hasn’t been right since.
Burton eventually underwent sports hernia surgery, and his injury troubles continued from there. He believed he was ready for the start of training camp, but within a few days, the Bears had him working out separately from the team. He missed the season opener against the Packers.
His health was inconsistent throughout the season, and he never established momentum. He played a career-low eight games and was on the field for only 26% of the Bears’ offensive snaps. He had 14 catches for 84 yards and no touchdowns before going on injured reserve in -November.
“I’d never been through anything like this,” Burton wrote in a blog entry for Sports Spectrum in November. “Usually, when I’m on the field, I’m playing to thrive, but more recently . . . I’m just trying to -survive.”
By cutting Burton now, the Bears will absorb a $7.5 million dead salary-cap hit but escape the $17.4 million they were set to pay him the next two seasons. He was scheduled to collect a $100,000 workout bonus this spring.
He had been expected to be back for the start of training camp, assuming that happens in late July, so it’s likely he will find a new team shortly after hitting the open market.
Despite Burton’s rocky season and the uncertainty about his health, coach Matt Nagy made it clear in December that he envisioned him as part of the team’s future.
“I would hope so,” Nagy said when asked if he expected Burton back for 2020. “I don’t see why not.”
Quite a bit has changed since then, though. Burton underwent hip surgery near the end of the season, and the Bears compiled a surplus of tight ends. They had 10, including Burton, but many of them are unproven.
“That’s something we are working through,” general manager Ryan Pace said last week. “We know we have some decisions we have to make across the board at that position. . . . But we are definitely happy that Jimmy is in this offense and also that Demetrius Harris is in this offense.”
NOTE: The Bears reached a one-year deal with former Packers offensive tackle Jason Spriggs, ESPN reported. He was a second-round pick in 2016 but has played in only 36 games because of injuries. He spent all of last season on injured reserve.
They also signed kicker Ramiz Ahmed and re-signed guard Rashaad Coward and tight end J.P. Holtz.