The Chicago Bears saw first hand in the opener how thin they are at tight end. With Trey Burton sidelined with a groin injury, the position was practically invisible against the Packers. Adam Shaheen continues to look woefully unremarkable. Ben Braunecker isn’t worth much from an offensive standpoint. It’s painfully obvious that Burton is their only viable target at that position, which is rather disconcerting given his health history.

This has left people wondering if there’s anything the Bears can do to fix the problem. Free agency isn’t likely to yield an option. The NFL draft is months away and does them no good this year. That just leaves the trade market. GM Ryan Pace is likely not wild about giving up more future assets for players after what he surrendered in trades for Khalil Mack, Anthony Miller, and David Montgomery.

So for him to even entertain the idea of one, it would have to be for what he’d consider a true potential difference-maker for this team. Up until last week there wasn’t a name that stuck out as a possibility. That seemed to change somewhat after watching Thursday night’s game between Carolina and Tampa Bay. A game that left many wondering what is going on with O.J. Howard.

Chicago Bears might take advantages of change in Bucs offense

Bruce Arians is the new head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s widely respected for his knowledge of the game and ability to elevate quarterbacks. With that said, there is one aspect of his system that somewhat gets put to the wayside. He’s never been accused of utilizing tight ends to a significant degree. Howard was targeted only five times in the opener against Los Angeles. Then in Carolina, he wasn’t targeted at all.

Most of the time he was kept in as an extra blocker.

A lot of fantasy owners were angry about this. They shouldn’t have been surprised though. If one looks back over the course of Arians’ career as a play caller, they notice tight ends never get top billing in the pecking order of targets.

  • 2001: O.J. Santiago – 27 targets
  • 2002: Mark Campbell – 46 targets
  • 2003: Steve Heiden – 37 targets
  • 2007: Heath Miller – 61 targets
  • 2008: Heath Miller – 66 targets
  • 2009: Heath Miller – 98 targets
  • 2010: Heath Miller – 67 targets
  • 2011: Heath Miller – 74 targets
  • 2012: Dwayne Allen – 66 targets
  • 2013: Rob Housler – 57 targets
  • 2014: John Carlson – 55 targets
  • 2015: Jermaine Gresham – 32 targets
  • 2016: Jermaine Gresham – 61 targets
  • 2017: Jermaine Gresham – 46 targets

Some people may argue that 60-70 targets are about right for a tight end, yes? Sure, if this were the 1990s. Here’s a comparison. Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle were targeted 156, 150, and 136 times respectively last year. Even Eric Ebron and Jared Cook cracked the 100-mark despite playing in new offenses for the first time. Arians may use tight ends in his system, but it’s clear he doesn’t see them as a necessity in the passing game.

This could open the door for a team who might be willing to take the former 1st round pick off their hands. Howard is a phenomenal athlete and would be far better served in an offense that likes to feature tight ends. An offense like the Bears have. Howard is 24-years old as well. Still quite young. Would giving up one of their 2nd round picks in 2020 be worth the price to get him?

Compared to what they’d likely find at the position in the actual round next year? Yes he is.