When the Chicago Bears released one of their all-time great kickers in Robbie Gould last September, it set the position into serious flux after a decade of stability. Many weren’t pleased with how the Bears dealt with Robbie Gould (who in some minds is a legend in Chicago) and were even less pleased at the prospects of his quick free agent replacement in Connor Barth.
Barth, coming over from the Saints and Buccaneers, of course had his moments, not all of which were satisfactory. The veteran 31-year-old made 18 of 23 field goals and 31 of 32 extra points but he never seemed like the kind of kicker you keep around long-term. You know, the Gould-type that is with a team long enough to actually break records.
In that light, while Barth is the incumbent starter for now, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that undrafted rookie free agent and former US national ski team member, Andy Phillips, pushes Barth and becomes that kicker for Chicago. The Bears don’t have their “answer” at kicker just yet, and while Barth was more adequate than the early narrative around him suggested, the team may have instead found their guy in Phillips. He’s not just a camp leg by any means. This is someone that can push for a starting role.
Phillips’ resume speaks for itself.
A four-time All-Pac 12 selection at Utah, Phillips is also a four-time Lou Groza award semifinalist, given to the best kicker in college football. And, he holds almost every relevant Utah school record for a kicker in points scored, field goal attempts, accuracy on relative distances, and more.
In Phillips’ four-year tenure, Utah routinely had one of the best special teams units in the country and he was at the very forefront of that honor. All the more interesting considering the 28-year-old had never played football before joining the team in 2013. Not even a snap.
Though, the transition to the professional game for kickers with big legs shouldn’t be too difficult in theory. All in all it’s been a winding road for the former high-class skier just to get to the NFL and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to waste this opportunity.
There are a lot of interesting competitions and position battles for the Bears to keep an eye out in training camp. Obviously, quarterback and the secondary first comes to mind. But don’t be surprised if there’s talk surrounding Phillips versus Barth. It’s not the sexiest position battle that grabs the most headlines, but when it’s potentially about locking a guy that may have to make a kick to win a big game in the closing seconds in the future, the importance isn’t lost on anyone.
Phillips was one of the best kickers in college football and he’s quite possibly going to push Barth hard. This is a battle for one roster spot, as most teams don’t carry two kickers, if any. Should Phillips not become the Bears kicker, there’s also the scenario where his presence lights a competitive fire under Barth with someone breathing down his neck, as opposed to essentially being handed the job last fall. A win-win outcome for the Bears in every sense.
For the first time after the Gould era, there’s legitimate intrigue surrounding the Bears’ placekicking situation.
Weight: 210 pounds
Contract and salary cap:
According to Over The Cap, Phillips’ undrafted free agent deal with the Bears is for three years, 1,665,000, with none of it guaranteed. He has a base salary of $465,000 in 2017 which will escalate to $555,000 in 2018, and $645,000 in 2019 (should he be on the roster). He has no performance incentives or bonuses and his base salaries are his exact cap hit for Chicago.
Reason for improvement in 2017
Considering he’s never played an NFL snap, the sky’s the limit for Phillips as a kicker. In what will possibly become a heated kicking competition, he has a chance to become the Bears’ guy. Improvement here means winning a roster spot and becoming the full-time kicker in Chicago. Until we actually see him lining up on a kickoff or for a field goal at Soldier Field, the only actual improvement he can make for now is getting a job with Chicago. Should that happen, then discussion around his consistency can start.
Reason for regression in 2017
Phillips’ job, as noted by his contract that carries no guaranteed money, is very much in flux. While he has that chance to push Barth and become the Bears’ long-term starting kicker, he also has as much of an opportunity to be one of the final roster cuts in August. There’s not enough of a sample size. Though, there’s always the idea that another team may snatch him up off of the waiver wire if he’s actually released. For now, any scenario where he doesn’t make Chicago’s final 53-man roster should be seen as his worst-case outcome.
Final roster odds
While it’s too difficult to pinpoint an exact number on this, I’d say it’s 50-50 for Phillips in actually joining the Bears full-time. He was one of college football’s best kickers and that may likely translate to the NFL. So he could flourish and be the Bears’ new answer. Or, he’ll either struggle in camp, lose to a superior Barth who is on his game, or both. But considering Barth’s occasional shakiness last season, there’s a golden opportunity awaiting Phillips in Bourbonnais.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.