When one peruses NFL.com for statistical information regarding the only two kickers on the current Bears roster – Eddy Pineiro and Elliot Fry – one is met with a disconcerting sentence:
And so sums up the kicker situation for the 2019 edition of the Bears. Maybe one of these two kids will be the next great kicker in Chicago. Maybe both will completely flame out over the summer. You don’t know. I don’t know. The Bears don’t know. And therein lies the problem. The Bears are heading into this campaign with their most talented roster in a few generations, as genuine contenders to win the Super Bowl, and they’re doing so with a significant liability at this critical position.
The scary part of this process is the Bears could potentially not find out if the kicker position will cripple them until opening night against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. Camp success is by no means a precursor to season success, no matter how many gimmicks Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace create around the competition. And even if Pineiro and Fry are both perfect through the summer’s fake games, a crucial miss late in that Thursday nighter will make them THE story on Friday morning.
Imagine making the bold move on draft night to get up one spot for the quarterback you covet. And imagine making the franchise-altering trade to acquire one of the game’s best defenders. Now imagine doing those things and risking everything by only having on your roster two kickers, neither of whom has ever ATTEMPTED a field goal in the NFL. To quote Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “Sounds crazy, no?”
It is crazy. It is also negligent. NFL teams are far too close talent-wise these days and we consistently see playoff games decided by a kick here or kick there. The 2019 Bears are going to be a good team, no matter who is kicking the football. But they won’t be a championship team if Fry or Pineiro doesn’t emerge as a better-than-average option at this pivotal position. And there’s no evidence to suggest they will…or they won’t.
The Bears don’t currently have an NFL kicker. Not really.
Sure, they kept Chris Blewitt and Elliot Fry from this past weekend’s #KickerFest19. Sure, they also traded a CONDITIONAL 7th-round pick from sometime in the next decade to acquire Eddy Pineiro from the Oakland Raiders. But even if these three unproven men wow the organization throughout OTAs and the summer, and even if they all stick on the roster come the preseason and are perfect through fake-game action, the Bears will not know if they have an NFL kicker until Thursday night, September 5th. Because that’s when the Green Bay Packers come to town. That’s when the result gets stapled to the GM and head coach. And that’s when the kicks actually matter.
Maybe one of these three ends up “the guy” come opening night. Or maybe Ryan Pace is still laying in the weeds, waiting out a fragile situation in San Francisco. No, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to believe Robbie Gould will be the one kicking against the Packers on that Thursday night in September. As one league source texted me, “Gould doesn’t want to be there anymore and the entire sport knows where he wants to be.” He wants to be home, with his family, in Chicago. But will Niners GM John Lynch allow a kicker to hold him hostage? Will he have a choice if Gould, you know, doesn’t show up for work?
The Bears are a championship contender. They have the league’s most talented defense and an offense that should be drastically improved with another year of experience in this NFL-proven system. But if they enter the 2019 campaign with a liability at the kicker position it will be impossible to pick them to win at all. Because at some point – maybe with a division, or home field, or another playoff game at stake – they’ll need a kick in a big spot.
On May 8th, the Bears can’t possibly believe they can make that kick. But it’s only May 8th.