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Tight end Jared Cook expected to draw interest from Bears

AtlantFalcons middle linebacker Curtis Loft(50) closes tackle Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook (89)  during first half an NFL

Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (50) closes in to tackle Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook (89) during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Updated: March 5, 2013 10:34PM



When vetting Marc Trestman, Bears general manager Phil Emery was impressed by a story he heard from his Montreal Allouettes counterpart.

Jim Popp, the Allouettes’ general manager, explained to Emery that the club lost its top running back and receiver.

“It came down to the best players on their squad were tight ends, so what did Marc do? He adapted to his circumstances, he put three tight ends in the game and he moved the ball and won games,” Emery said after hiring Trestman as coach. “Not only can he adapt to the personnel, but he can adapt to the situation very easily.”

The Bears’ best offensive assets are not at tight end — not even close — and they might address that void aggressively in free agency. Jared Cook surprisingly is a free agent after the Tennessee Titans elected not to use the franchise tag on the athletic, 25-year-old, and the Bears are expected to be among his suitors, according to a league source.

Emery was diplomatic in assessing Kellen Davis, noting the veteran tight end had a “rough year.”

That’s an understatement.

Davis was among the league leaders in drop percentage, and he struggled to emerge after the Bears traded Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers before the 2011 season. He has not missed a game, and he has scored a respectable seven touchdowns the last two seasons. But he has managed only 37 catches for 435 yards.

Davis, who collected $2.7 million last year, would save the Bears
$2.5 million if he’s released before the 2013 season.

Meanwhile, depending on the structure of a deal, the Bears could add a coveted free-agent tight end for $3 million to $4.5 million in cap space. If Cook proves to be too expensive, there are several other options, including Martellus Bennett, Fred Davis, Dustin Keller and Brandon Myers.

The draft also has several talented prospects, most notably Zach Ertz of Stanford and Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame.

The Bears’ needs at offensive line are well documented. But so is the need for a pass-catching tight end.

The NFL’s final four playoff teams featured at least one, most notably future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. He turned 37 last month, but he had 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns last season — or 60 catches, 612 yards and five touchdowns more than Davis, Matt Spaeth, Evan Rodriguez and Kyle Adams combined.

Trestman wants to empower quarterback Jay Cutler to succeed, and he’ll stress pass protection, first and foremost. But a close second will be to provide his quarterback with weapons, and the Bears badly need another one to join Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte.

Cook, a 6-5, 246-pounder who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds, would command the attention of defenses.

“Cook is definitely someone that we feel very strongly about. We feel he’s a big part of us having success next year,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We feel can give him an opportunity to catch more balls and be more productive and maybe have him be more efficient with the plays he’s in there without overworking him.”

The Titans reportedly are still working to re-sign Cook, but they’ll have competition now that he’s an unrestricted free agent.

At least one new Bears coach knows how important a pass-catching tight end can be.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer came from the New Orleans Saints, with whom Jimmy Graham was a Pro Bowl selection after catching 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. Graham is two inches taller than Cook, but he was timed with a slower 40 (4.53).

TOP TIGHT-END TARGETS

Jared Cook

He was expected to be given the franchise tag, but the Titans elected not to. He hasn’t posted big numbers, but he has flashed plenty of potential, and he’s one of the NFL’s most athletic tight ends.

Tony Gonzalez

The Falcons are desperately trying to lure the future Hall of Famer back for another season. If they can’t, Gonzalez won’t play anywhere else, and the Falcons will be in the market for a tight end.

Martellus Bennett

Versatile tight end with lots of personality who was in the shadow of Jason Witten with the Cowboys, then posted solid numbers last season for the Giants.

Fred Davis

He has missed 13 games the last two seasons, including time with an ­Achilles injury in 2012 and a four-game suspension in 2011 because he tested positive for marijuana use.

Dustin Keller

He turns 29 in September, and he’s coming off his quietest NFL season, although much of that has to be attributed to the struggles of quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Brandon Myers

He indicated Monday that he believes he’ll be leaving the cap-strapped Raiders after a breakout 2012 season in which he caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns.

Delanie Walker

With Vernon Davis around, Walker was called on to block more, but he made some important catches for the 49ers last season.



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