The Bears will look a lot different, and hopefully be a lot better, at tight end next season.
The position has received a complete remodeling in the off-season. After two straight seasons of having the lowest tight end production in the NFL, the Bears added unrestricted free agents Martellus Bennett and Steve Maneri. They cut Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, their top two tight ends over the previous two seasons.
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The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bennett is an every-down player and is expected to make an instant impact in the passing game after a breakout season in 2012 when he caught 55 passes for 626 yards and 5 touchdowns. Those are impressive numbers considering no Bears tight end has caught even 20 passes in either of the last two seasons.
Davis and Spaeth combined over the last two seasons to net 50 catches and 513 yards.
With tight end considered a major team weakness, Bears general manager Phil Emery wasted no time addressing the situation, signing Bennett to a $20.4 million, four-year deal in the opening minutes of free agency. Once considered a disappointment as a second-round pick in 2008, Bennett blossomed last season.
"He's taken a big step in the right direction and matured as a pro on and off the field," Emery said. "We see a player with a high upside that has taken that big initial step. (He) had a very good year with the Giants, and he's done it in a high-stress, high-demanding position in New York. We're excited about where he's going as a player."
At 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, Maneri provides a physical presence as a run blocker and pass protector.
Evan Rodriguez, the 2012 fourth-round pick from Temple, is back after a rookie season in which he also lined up at fullback. At 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, Rodriguez lacks the size of traditional NFL tight ends but could fit as a hybrid fullback/tight end or the H-back role. He caught 4 passes for 21 yards last season.
Also returning is 6-foot-4, 255-pound Kyle Adams, who had 4 receptions for 20 yards and contributed on special teams.