If the Bears have big plans for tight end Jimmy Graham, now is the time to unveil them. Graham came off the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday after missing two games and will be available against the Steelers.
Graham hasn’t been used much despite being one of the Bears’ most expensive players. He is essentially getting $10 million this season — some of the money has been deferred for salary-cap purposes — and has played only 22% of the offensive snaps.
During an offseason in which they cut left tackle Charles Leno and cornerback Kyle Fuller, the Bears kept Graham believing he’d be a vital asset in the red zone and on third downs. Instead, he has been targeted three times, and his lone catch was an 11-yarder in the season opener.
Signing Graham, who turns 35 this month, to a two-year, $16 million contract raised eyebrows throughout the NFL in 2020.
But it turned out to be a reasonably wise investment in his first season. Graham was sixth in the league in red-zone catches (13) and finished with 50 catches for 456 yards and eight touchdowns. That was better than all of the Bears’ tight ends combined in 2019, and Graham tied Greg Olsen’s team record for touchdown catches in a season by a tight end.
The more Cole Kmet has progressed, the harder it has been for Graham to hang on to playing time. Kmet is the Bears’ third-most targeted player at 36 passes and has caught 22 for 197 yards while playing 84% of the snaps.
Nagy still away
Coach Matt Nagy remained away from Halas Hall as he waits to be cleared after testing positive for the coronavirus. He needs to test negative on consecutive days to return.
That kept him out of the Bears’ 33-22 loss to the 49ers on Sunday, when special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor was acting head coach. It was the first time a Bears head coach missed a game since Mike Ditka suffered a heart attack in 1988 and defensive coordinator Vince Tobin coached the team to a 27-15 victory over the Buccaneers.
Nagy was barred from having any contact with coaches, staff or players during the game and had to watch on TV like everyone else.
“It’s something that I could have never guessed in a million years that I’d be doing,” Nagy said.
“I was on the edge of my seat the entire game. I just don’t know how to put it into words. I wanted to be there for the guys and be with them, but I knew that the guys had it. It was something I don’t want to go through again.”
Running back David Montgomery (knee) is eligible to begin practicing once the Bears open his window to return from injured reserve, but Nagy declined to say whether that’s possible this week.
The Bears are holding out hope for outside linebacker Khalil Mack (foot) after opting against putting him on injured reserve last week, though they’re evaluating whether safety Eddie Jackson (hamstring) might miss significant time. Running back Damien Williams (knee) also left the 49ers game.
Tight end J.P. Holtz, one of the Bears’ top special-teams players, is in the concussion protocol.
All of those players have an extra day to get healthy because the Bears play Monday night, so the practice week doesn’t begin until Thursday.