By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) The vision Bears general manager Ryan Pace has for tight end Adam Shaheen sure didn’t come to fruition in his rookie season.
Shaheen’s selection in the second round of the NFL Draft last April was considered a surprise. A standout at Division-II Ashland, Shaheen faces a long road to becoming an impact player in the NFL. That much became clear in 2017 as he struggled acclimating to the next level.
This offseason for Shaheen will be about first getting healthy — he missed the final three games with a shoulder injury — and then getting himself up to speed at this level. Shaheen plans to spend time with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky developing the kind of rapport the Bears hope from their top two picks in 2017.
The Bears hope the 23-year-old Shaheen is their future at tight end and a playmaker for their new-look offense directed by head coach Matt Nagy. The team believes his massive frame — he’s 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds — and athleticism can create mismatches for Trubisky and the offense.
Whether Shaheen can develop into a game-changing player remains to be seen. Shaheen plans to dedicate himself to his route running and blocking this offseason, because the natural abilities are there.
“He can be as good as he wants to be,” Trubisky said. “So, it’s all about hard work and dedication.”
So what’s next for the Bears at tight end? Let’s take a look.
Returning: Adam Shaheen, 23; Daniel Brown, 25 (ERFA); Ben Braunecker, 24
Tongue in cheek, Daniel Brown referred to the Bears’ young tight ends at the Three Muskateers. While that one likely won’t stick, the Bears are happy to have three players competing for roles again in 2018.
Shaheen hauled in just 12 catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns, only emerging as a red-zone threat late in the season. The Bears didn’t incorporate a great deal of trust into Shaheen after he showed a lack of readiness coming out of training camp. Shaheen caught one pass in the first eight games of the season.
Nagy could make Shaheen a focal point to his offense — similar to that of Travis Kelce in Kansas City — if he returns from this offseason looking ready to make an impact. As Trubisky said, it’s up to Shaheen to prove his readiness and earn the trust of a new coaching staff.
Brown topped Shaheen with 13 receptions for 129 yards, taking on a larger role after the horrific injury suffered by veteran Zach Miller in late October. He’s on exclusive-rights terms this offseason and should expect to be back with the Bears for a third season.
Braunecker has mostly been a specialist for the Bears, a role in which he should return next season.
Questionable return: Zach Miller, 33 (UFA); Dion Sims, 26
Pace will now have to weigh the worth of retaining Sims for another season at a high price. He was inked to a three-year deal worth up to $18 million but is only guaranteed $6 million if removed from the roster before March 10.
Sims did prove to be a reliable blocker at tight end but brought little for production, catching 15 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. The Bears may be more likely to cut ties with him if they believe Shaheen can develop as a blocker.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the 33-year-old Miller has a future in the NFL after he suffered a gruesome leg injury in New Orleans last October, which resulted in a dislocated knee and a torn popliteal artery. Surgeons managed to save Miller’s left leg, as amputation was a fear in the aftermath of the play. Quality of life is a great blessing for Miller given what he has been through.
Pace will look to take some pressure off of Shaheen, whose adjustment to the league could continue to take time. The market for tight ends in free agency is interesting, led by 26-year-old Trey Burton of the Eagles. The other interesting name is Jimmy Graham, the 31-year-old who was most dominant in his days with the Saints.