The Bears have added to a rather crowded tight ends room today, reportedly signing former Browns tight end Stephen Carlson, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. The 26-year-old is set to join the teams after participating in Chicago’s rookie minicamp this weekend.
Carlson came into the league as an undrafted signee out of Princeton in 2019. He failed to make the initial 53-man roster but was retained on the Browns’ practice squad to start the year. At the turn of the month into November, Carlson was signed to the active roster, making his NFL debut, and his first start, two days later. He remained on the active roster for the remainder of the year, making five starts and catching five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Carlson had found his playing time thanks to the long-term injuries of pass-catching tight end David Njoku and Pharaoh Brown, but he found most of his usefulness in blocking and special teams while in Cleveland. In his sophomore season, Carlson would play in every game, including the team’s two playoff contests but only caught one pass for 11 yards. He tore his ACL just before the 2021 season, after which his contract with the Browns expired. He had reportedly fully recovered, working out with the Giants nearly a year ago, but didn’t sign with any teams in the 2022 season.
Luckily, Carlson won’t be asked to try and be Chicago’s premier receiving tight end. That role will likely continue to be held by Cole Kmet, who led the team in all receiving categories last year with 50 receptions for 544 yards and seven touchdowns. The rest of the tight ends on last year’s roster combined for six catches for 52 yards. The only returners from that group, second-year tight ends Jake Tonges out of Cal and Chase Allen out of Iowa State, failed to record a reception. Former Packers tight end Robert Tonyan will assist Kmet in pass-catching duties after signing with the Bears back in March. The only other tight end on the current roster is the undrafted rookie out of Stony Brook, Damien Caffrey, who caught seven passes for 78 yards in 2022.
It appears that Carlson will add a bit of experience and blocking behind Kmet and Tonyan. None of Tonges, Allen, or Caffrey were prestigious receivers in college or have much NFL experience, so Carlson stands a good chance of entering the year as the team’s TE3. He’ll get his chance to return to the league this summer after not having played in an NFL game since January 2021.