With every position on the offense wrapped up in this series, we'll take a look at the specialists before moving on to the defense next week. Here's the full story-stream if you need to catch up on any you may have missed.
Robbie Gould - Signed through 2017 - As soon as the NFL started toying with the idea of eliminating the extra point, some Bears fans started griping about Gould's new five-year, $17.925 million contract. Please understand that Gould wasn't extended because of his 99.4% success rate on extra points, he was re-signed because he's one of the top field goal kickers in the history of the NFL and is 16-19 from 50+ yards the last five years.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gould was the 28th ranked kicker in the NFL with a +15.2. Don't ask how they arrived at that number, because by digging a little deeper into his stats I see that he was 16th in made field goals, 12th in FG%, and 14th in kickoff return percentage. Maybe he was down at 28 because he had one extra point blocked?
He did only have one game in the red, and that was a -1.7 against the Cowboys.
Adam Podlesh - Signed through 2015 - As it stands right now, Adam Podlesh is the 11th highest paid Bear for the 2014 season. In my opinion that's a bit high for a punter with the 29th best net average. He did place 27 punts inside the 20 (tied for 13th), but with $3.7 million remaining on his deal for the next two years he's a cap casualty candidate.
PFF had him as their 41st ranked (dead last) punter at -10.8. If the Bears can't find a player to beat him out, I don't think they're trying hard enough.
Patrick Mannelly - Free Agent - If Mannelly wants to return, Phil Emery will need to get it done. As it stands right now, the 16 year veteran is seriously considering retirement. He plans to take some time to clear his head and to discuss his future with his family before making a decision on 2014.
I think I can speak for Bears fandom when I say; Please don't go Patrick, please don't go...
Devin Hester - Free Agent - Hester still made an impact on Chicago field position as teams routinely kicked away from him. He bettered his kick and punt return average from 2012, he had a touchdown on a punt return, and he had another called back from a penalty. PFF gave him a +8.5, good for 6th best among returners.
With the Bears' horrendous defense, Hester actually led the NFL in kick return yards. As for the money, he had a near $3 million cap hit in 2013, and if he were to return that number would be significantly lower. He is a one dimensional player, but that dimension he brings to a team is an important one. Better field position. Teams will need to decide what that's worth.
The Bears may feel they have his replacement on the roster in wideout Chris Williams, who was the Devin Hester of the CFL. You can get more info on Williams right here, Chicago Bears 2014 Roster Turnover: Wide Receiver.
Brandon Hartson - Signed a reserve/future contract - No disrespect intended, but I hope Hartson is nowhere near the Bears in 2014. If he is around, that would mean that Mannelly isn't, and we can't have the longest tenured Bear not on the Bears. Can we?
Tress Way - Signed a reserve/future contract - Way was around last off season and he couldn't supplant Podlesh as the Bears punter, maybe a year of strength training and practice has done him well.
Drew Butler - Signed a reserve/future contract - Butler isn't listed on the Bears website, but he is listed as having signed with Chicago elsewhere. Plus the Bears tweeted out his signing back in December, so I'll assume he's on the team for now. Butler is the son of 1985 Bears rookie Kevin Butler, so he has that going for him.
In 2012 Butler was the primary punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his 37.8 net punting average ranked 28th while his 26 punts inside the 20 ranked 18th.
2014 OUTLOOK - There's a very good chance that the only returning specialist in 2014 will be Robbie Gould. Podlesh may be cut, Hester may be allowed to sign elsewhere, and Mannelly may retire.
The Bears should bring in a few more punters whether they cut Podlesh before camp or not, and we can expect them to bring in a place kicker just so Gould isn't taking all the camp reps.
If Mannelly leaves, the Bears would also bring in some long snappers to compete with Hartson.
What are your thoughts on the Bears specialists for 2014?
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