Shortly after Matt Nagy was named John Fox’s successor in January, the new Bears head coach joined general manager Ryan Pace for a thorough discussion about the importance of the team's tight ends.
In Kansas City, Nagy watched Travis Kelce emerge as one of the league’s most dangerous pass-catching tight ends. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Kelce tallied 307 receptions for 3,900 yards and 22 touchdowns over the past four regular seasons.
In Chicago last year, the Bears struggled to find any real consistency at tight end after popular veteran Zach Miller suffered a horrific knee dislocation in Week 8. Despite missing half the season, Miller still led all Chicago tight ends with 20 catches for 236 yards.
“One of the first conversations Matt and I had once everything calmed down and we were talking football was the value of this position, the value of the U tight end position in this offense,” Pace told reporters at Halas Hall last week. “And he painted that picture very clear, which is great for a scout to hear because it makes it easier to go find that person. And so Trey Burton, he just fits a lot of the qualities we’re looking for in this offense. Obviously as a receiver his ability to separate, he’s got good hands, he’s an intelligent player, and we feel like there’s a lot of upside ahead of him, and we feel like this offense can maximize that upside.”
Burton -- the third tight end in Philadelphia -- quickly became one of the Bears’ top priorities in free agency. After securing a commitment from wide receiver Allen Robinson (three years, $25.2 million in guaranteed money), Chicago reached an agreement with Burton for four years and $22 million in total guarantees.
Burton’s new deal represents a significant step up for a player who caught 23 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns for the Super Bowl champion Eagles in 2017.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to what other guys are getting paid,” Burton said last week. “I am really confident in my ability, and unfortunately I was backlogged behind Zach [Ertz], probably one of the best in the NFL, and [Brent] Celek, who is a legend in Philadelphia. I had to know my role back then and do it when I had an opportunity to play. I tried to make the most of it, and nothing is going to change here. Still trying to put my best foot forward, make the most plays I can.”
Burton said he believes he can develop the same on-field chemistry with Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky that Ertz enjoyed with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. If he can, Burton’s arrival would take serious pressure off Trubisky, who the Bears hope can have a breakout year. Trubisky threw for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions as a rookie.
“I can just model my game after Ertz, what he brought to Carson,” Burton said. “Obviously Carson was a new quarterback coming into the league and having to learn an offense as well. There’s just so much you can do -- it’s almost impossible to guard everybody in the offense if you know what to do and what your checks could be and the hots and those types of things.”
For that reason, the Bears added Burton and backup quarterback Chase Daniel -- both of whom have experience in the system Nagy is expected to run in Chicago.
Daniel played for Nagy in Kansas City, and while Nagy never coached Burton in Philadelphia -- Nagy’s stint in Philly lasted from 2008 to 2012 -- he overlapped with Eagles head coach and playcaller Doug Pederson for three seasons on the Chiefs' coaching staff.
Nagy is likely to tweak the offense, but the Bears are expected to resemble what Kansas City and Philadelphia have run in recent years.
“I don’t have to learn a new offense,” Burton said. “I basically know the whole thing, a couple things here and there that they did in Kansas City that we did different in Philadelphia, but 95 percent of the playbook I already know. So that’s huge from a player’s standpoint.”