Bears tight end Cole Kmet motivated to ‘play beyond’ value of new contract

The first player drafted by the Bears to sign a long-term deal with the team since Eddie Jackson in 2019, the 24-year-old Kmet’s four-year, $50 million extension gives the Bears a tight end they can grow with. “Ready to get going and prove these guys right,” he said.

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Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus high fives tight end Cole Kmet after Kmet scored a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field last season.

Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) said his four-year, $50 million contract was “unbelievable ... It’s crazy — I don’t even know how else to say it. Honored to be here. Honored that they felt I was a guy worthy of this.”

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cole Kmet’s four-year, $50 million contract extension, with $38.2 million guaranteed, isn’t a blockbuster by NFL standards. But it carried significance that bodes well for the Bears, still in the early stages of a rebuild under general manager Ryan Poles.

Not only is Kmet a hometown player — from Lake Barrington/Arlington Heights and St. Viator High School — but he’s a homegrown player. A second-round pick by Ryan Pace in 2020, Kmet is the first player drafted by the Bears to get a second contract since running back Tarik Cohen (a fourth-round pick in 2017) in 2020.

Kmet also is a player who has progressed with Justin Fields as his quarterback. Kmet had two touchdown passes in his first two seasons with the Bears in 2020 and 2021. He had a team-high seven last season (six from Fields), when Kmet also led the Bears with 50 receptions for 544 yards.

And the signing of Kmet also is an indication the Bears feel they have found a tight end they can depend on. Since Mike Ditka helped revolutionize the position in the NFL in the 1960s, the Bears have had one tight end make the Pro Bowl — Martellus Bennett, a free-agency signing who made the Pro Bowl in 2014 but was so enigmatic and problematic he was traded by Pace one season later.

The Bears have been searching for a tight end with staying power ever since. Adam Shaheen was touted as a Rob Gronkowski-like weapon as a second-round draft pick in 2017 but fizzled from the start. Zach Miller made big plays but suffered a devastating, career-ending leg injury against the Saints in 2017.

Trey Burton, a free-agency signing in 2018 (four years, $32 million), was a disappointment, caught in the undertow of Matt Nagy’s offense. Jimmy Graham was intermittently productive but past his prime at 34.

The 6-6, 260-pound Kmet had the misfortune of coming to the Bears as their top draft pick (No. 43 overall) in a slip-siding offense still searching for a quarterback, in an era when Gronkowski and Travis Kelce were creating unrealistic expectations of what a pass-catching tight end should be.

But after three seasons, Kmet has evolved into an all-around tight end the Bears’ offense can grow with — a tight end who embraces the blocking role but still is capable of big plays downfield. And he comes with a lot of extras that mean something at Halas Hall. “That type of man who represents everything we want to represent here, in terms of being smart, being tough, playing with intensity,” coach Matt Eberflus said.

Still just 24, Kmet has “life-changing” money and room for growth. What’s next?

“For me it’s just always been all-around,” Kmet said. “Always to be what I have to be that day. Blocking really wasn’t part of my game coming out, but . . . I think that’s become a strength of mine.

“If I need to be on the line and we run the ball 40 times, I can be that guy. If we need to drop back 40 times to win a game, I can be that dude that is able to split out and do things as well.”

It’s good deal for the Bears and Kmet. When safety Eddie Jackson signed in 2019, his contract made him the highest paid safety in the NFL when there was little chance he was going to repeat the enormous production — five defensive touchdowns — that earned him the big money. Kmet’s deal is tied for ninth among tight ends (with the Patriots’ Hunter Henry and the Falcons’ Jonnu Smith) in average annual value.

It rewards performance and sets realistic expectations — the kind of deal Poles likely hopes to get with other long-term candidates — safety Jaylon Johnson and wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool. Mooney sounded amenable, but good luck with Johnson and Claypool. On multiple levels, Ryan Poles needs more Cole Kmets.

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