The Chicago Bears are just two years removed from paying big money for a tight end in free agency, but it appears one of their top priorities of the 2020 offseason is doing that again. According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Jason Lieser, the Bears are planning to pursue Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, one of the biggest names set to hit the open market, once free agency opens in mid-March.
Chicago's already dedicated plenty of money to the position thanks to its four-year, $32 million signing of former Philadelphia Eagles backup tight end Trey Burton in 2018. Burton, however, was largely a non-factor in 2019 despite posting career numbers, including six touchdown catches, in his Bears debut; the veteran missed half the season and was limited to just 14 catches in five starts because of a lingering groin injury. And coach Matt Nagy hasn't been shy about wanting to get more from his TEs, even if it means adding one.
"This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end," Nagy has said, per Lieser. "We're exploring every avenue."
Hooper, in particular, would represent arguably the most proven solution, if not the priciest. The Falcons have already admitted they'll let the 25-year-old free agent test the market, with Hooper suggesting they told him to "hit the road" in anticipation of steep contract offers to come on the open market. Because of their own salary cap situation, the Bears should still be considered a "long shot" to land Hooper, according to Lieser, especially with the TE likely to command an annual salary of up to $12 million. But that doesn't mean they won't try.
"Spending big on Hooper might seem desperate," Lieser wrote this week, "but that's where the Bears are after failing to make the playoffs despite having a championship-caliber defense. If they aren't going to make an upgrade at quarterback, this is their best, boldest move."