Remember Cody Parkey?
The Chicago Bears and their fans surely do. But the steady kicking of Cairo Santos is evidence that NFL teams can turn a negative into a positive with one good decision.
Having surprisingly released Robbie Gould in favor of Connor Barth at the start of the 2016 season, the Bears went through five kickers in the next four years. That included Parkey, whom then-GM Ryan Pace felt would be a long-term answer.
But while Parkey was a bust, the Bears continue to reap dividends on the decision made by Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy to add Santos to the practice squad before training camp in ’20. He not only is in his fourth season as the team’s kicker but nailed four field goals in two consecutive games, including Monday night’s 12-10 upset in Minnesota.
Special teams is the best part of the 4-8 Bears. With Santos as the centerpiece, the website lineups.com has Chicago ranked sixth in its detailed special teams analysis, behind only Cleveland, Seattle, New Orleans, Denver and Jacksonville. That was hardly the case after the Bears decided Gould’s best days were behind him.
Parkey, a Pro Bowl kicker with Philadelphia in 2014, was given a four-year, $15-million deal — including $9 million guaranteed — by Pace in the free agent period before the ’18 season. He missed seven field goals during the regular season and then infamously authored the “double doink” miss from 43 yards to cost the Bears a 16-15 loss to Philadelphia in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Parkey was released after the first season of his deal, even though the Bears were still on the hook for $4.4 million in dead cap money. The Bears imported Eddy Piniero as their kicker for the ’19 season but held a kicking competition before the ’20 season that led them to their post-Gould long-term answer.
Pace did his eventual successor, Ryan Poles, a solid by looking at Santos with an open mind. The Tulane product had been brought in as a mid-season replacement for Connor Barth in ’17 but lasted only two games before going on injured reserve with a groin injury, with the Bears then turning to Mike Nugent.
Santos failed to land a full-time kicking job the next two seasons but took advantage of Piniero suffering a groin injury in training camp before the season in ’20. He hit 30 of 32 field goals that season, including a 55-yarder, and was signed to a three-year, $9-million deal — with $4.575 million guaranteed — the following March.
Santos has kicked four or more field goals in a game 12 times in his career, including a personal-best seven kicking for Kansas City in 2015. He is 100-for-110 the last four seasons, a 91-percent success rate.
The Bears face a decision on Santos after the season. He is among nine current kickers who are on track to be unrestricted free agents heading into 2024.
Santos carries a salary cap figure of $4.5 million this season, the fifth biggest in the NFL. According to the website Spotrac, only Justin Tucker, Chris Boswell, Harrison Butker and Younghoe Koo weigh more heavily against their team’s salary caps.
Nine kickers currently have long-term deals worth at least $20 million. Santos appears to have earned his way into the club. He just turned 32, however, so you know the Bears’ front office will study the performance curve for kickers heading into their mid-30s.
Gould was 33 when the Bears kicked him to the curb. He wound up as San Francisco’s kicker for a run of six seasons, including one trip to the Super Bowl and two others to conference championships.
Seems like it should be easy for the Bears to conclude if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.