Now that the NFL preseason has come to an end, all 32 teams have some tough decisions to make. All rosters currently sit at 80 players. However, come Tuesday, all 32 teams will need to trim their rosters down to just 53 players.
With plenty of battles to be discussed by the Bears' front office brass, such as the wide receiver position, Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy will be busy. However, after Saturday's preseason finale in Nashville, the Bears may have another tough decision to make. Historically, the Chicago Bears in the Matt Nagy era have carried three tight ends. That said, this year's third tight end appeared to be recently-signed Jesse James. Now, a three-touchdown performance from Jesper Horsted in Nashville may alter that certainty.
So what now? Pace and Nagy will have to feverishly discuss the idea of parting ways with the six-year NFL veteran or praying they can keep both around with Horsted ending up on the practice squad. However, after a three-touchdown outing featuring the sweet highlight above, Horsted will likely be scooped up by another team if the Bears are stupid enough to try and stash him on the practice squad. At this point, Horsted feels like he's shown too much to be hidden by the Bears.
With that being said, let's dive a little deeper into what should be a tough roster decision for the Chicago Bears.
The TE in the Room
Let's begin with the obvious, Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet are all but locks to make the Bears' 2021 roster. Graham has one year left on his deal worth $10 million against the salary cap. As for Kmet, he was the Bears' first draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (43rd overall) and has a bright future in Chicago.
Now, this is where things get interesting. Historically, the Bears typically carry three tight ends on the active roster. In years past, names such as Dion Sims, Ben Braunecker, and others have manned the third tight end spot. Now, this season, it appeared that name was going to be Jesse James.
James found immediate success during the preseason with the Bears, and especially with Justin Fields. James has six catches for 92 yards so far in the preseason. He truly only played the first two games as the final game on Saturday featured more bubble players than veterans. However, his job as the third tight end on the roster looked safe until Saturday night, when Jesper Horsted hauled in five catches for 104 yards and three touchdowns.
So now, it feels like there is a problem.
The Bears will have a complicated decision on their hands when determining which tight end they'll keep on the roster. Sure, there is always the chance they keep both players, valuing one of them more as a hybrid fullback-type player. However, we're going to assume only one player makes the roster.
Both players offer different skillsets and different experience levels. James is a six-year NFL veteran. As for Horsted, he has six games of NFL experience, all coming in 2019 with the Bears. However, both can fill a needed role on the Bears' 53-man roster. Let's analyze both players.
James presents both experience and versatility. The Penn State product has played every game in each of his six seasons outside of his rookie year. In addition, James was known as a strong blocker in his time with the Steelers, a role that the Bears could use in their tight end corps.
However, James' blocking is potentially overrated. According to an article written by Logan Lamorandier, during the 2019 season, James was graded as the 46th-ranked run-blocking tight end in the league and 72nd-ranked pass blocker. That pass-blocking rank was out of 79 qualified tight ends. Perhaps James isn't as good of a blocker as he is made out to be. If that was to be his saving grace, then maybe the 6-foot-7 tight end may be destined for another team.
James has never put up insane numbers. He's reliable, but in his six NFL seasons he's never caught more than 43 passes, never recorded more than 423 yards, and never caught more than three touchdowns in a season. But, the fact he's played all 16 games five times is perhaps his most valuable ability, availability.
In addition, James is not a late-career veteran either. In fact, James is only 27 years old and still has plenty of football left in him. Although James has been good, Jesper Horsted is making waves after Saturday's game.
Jesper Horsted has been around the Chicago Bears organization for two seasons prior to 2021. He signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft and spent majority of his first season on the practice squad. However, the Princeton product played in six games during the 2019 season, hauling in eight passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. Horsted has made enough of an impression to stick around, as he spent the 2020 season on their practice squad.
Fast forward to Saturday, August 28. Horsted had the best receiving performance of the preseason for the Bears, hauling in five passes for 104 yards and three (yes, three) touchdowns. Now, the former Princeton Tiger is firmly in the conversation for a roster spot on the team. He made an incredible catch on Justin Fields' lone touchdown pass Saturday, and capped off his evening with that incredible one-handed grab earlier in the article.
Believe it or not, Horsted is shorter than James, but the 6-foot-3, 237-pound tight end balled out on a big stage, showcasing his abilities and proving he's capable of playing in the NFL. Now, can he beat out the six-year vet to earn a place in the Bears' tight end room?
In the end, the Bears' decision on which tight end to keep may be one of the hardest they have to make ahead of Tuesday's roster deadline. James provides the experience and availability that is intriguing to every team in the league. However, the 24-year-old Horsted is a high-upside prospect with an ability to be a reliable receiving option for the Chicago Bears and, ultimately, Justin Fields.
The Bears have a tough decision ahead. It will be intriguing to see what Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy decide with these two players. There is always the chance that they keep both of them, but if it comes down to keeping one, that will spark a lot of debate in the front office.