Saints match Bears' offer sheet for TE Josh Hill

NEW ORLEANS -- The Chicago Bears will have to search elsewhere for a new tight end.

The New Orleans Saints announced Friday that they will match the Bears' offer sheet to restricted free agent Josh Hill.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan reported earlier this week that the deal is worth up to $7.5 million over three years, with $3.25 million guaranteed.

The Saints' decision was only mildly surprising. They are tight on salary-cap space and have already signed tight ends Coby Fleener and Michael Hoomanawanui this offseason, but they have valued Hill for his versatility as a pass catcher, a blocker and a core special teams player since he signed as an undrafted rookie out of Idaho State in 2013.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end has 36 receptions for 340 yards and eight touchdowns over three seasons. Five of those TDs came as the third-string tight end in 2014, which led many to expect a breakout for him last season after Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seattle Seahawks. Instead, Hill remained a minor part of the offense; veteran Benjamin Watson had the breakout season.

This season, Fleener will likely emerge as a leading man.

The Saints were down to less than $300,000 in salary-cap space as of Friday morning, a total that excluded recent deals with linebacker Craig Robertson and safety Jamarca Sanford because they have not been processed yet.

The Saints are also in strong contention to sign free-agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley, which would require them to carve out more cap space.

Hill is already on the books for $1.67 million, since the Saints offered him that much on a one-year qualifying deal earlier this month. It's unclear if the new contract carries a larger or smaller cap figure for 2016.

The Bears still have a need at tight end after trading Martellus Bennett to the New England Patriots. Newly re-signed Zach Miller is the favorite to start in 2016, but Chicago wants to strengthen its depth at the position. The Bears also brought back Rob Housler on a one-year deal and traded for Khari Lee last summer.

ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.