Patrick O’Donnell - Free agent - The Chicago Bears got a very good year from O’Donnell in 2017, in fact, he’s improved all four years since being a sixth round draft pick in 2014. Megapunt came in with a reputation for a big leg after having a 47.1 punting average at Miami in 2013, but the Bears wanted him to become more of a directional punter. His first few years with the Bears only saw him average 44 yards per punt, but last year he had a career high of 47. That average placed him 9th in the NFL, and his 27 punts inside the twenty was only one off of his career high of 28 from 2015.
He also completed the first pass of his career, a 38 yarder that went for a TD. He’s now one of two Bears with a perfect passer rating for his career.
If the Bears are going to re-sign O’Donnell, they’ll probably have to pay him top 10 punter money. Right now the 10th highest paid punter by average is Seattle’s Jon Ryan at $2.5 million a year. That may seem like a lot of money for “just a punter,” but the Bears’ struggles to get a reliable kicker these last two years should be a lesson for them to lock up a specialist that they believe in.
Patrick Scales - Exclusive rights free agent - Scales went down with an ACL injury during the preseason, but prior to that was the long snapper for 21 straight games in Chicago. As an ERFA, I expect him to be signed if his knee is fine.
Andrew DePaola - Free agent - The Bears added DePaola after Scales was injured, and he did a fine job. If Scales isn’t ready for offseason work outs, it makes sense to sign DePaola.
Cairo Santos - Free agent - The Bears signed the 26-year old Santos in late November, and he only appeared in two games before going on season ending injured reserve. When healthy he was a good kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, so if he’s fully healed from his groin injury I’d expect the Bears to give him a look.
Mike Nugent - Free agent - Nugent was brought in when Santos went down, and the soon to be 36-year old went 4 for 4 on field goals and 7 for 9 on extra points.
2018 OUTLOOK - If the Bears do bring O’Donnell back, they’ll need to offer some amount of guaranteed cash. The aforementioned Ryan received $3.4 million in guarantees from the Seahawks before the 2016 season. It’s not ideal having your cap hit at punter that high, but a wise capologist can get O’Donnell signed to a deal that makes sense for the team.
The Bears have two potentially good long snappers they could bring back and have battle it out in training camp. At least one of these guys should be back.
Kicker gets a little tricky because Santos dealt with a nagging groin injury for most of 2017. He was hurt last preseason for the Chiefs, then came back for a few games and re-aggravated it. Kansas City released him and the Bears picked him up once he passed his physical. He then re-injured himself in warm-ups in his second game. Groin injuries are notorious for being difficult to overcome, and I would suspect that for a kicker it’s even harder.
Philadelphia’s Caleb Sturgis ended the 2017 season on injured reserve, but it was reported that he was healthy in December. The Eagles were doing just fine with Jake Elliott (who went to Lyons Township in LaGrange, IL by the way), so Sturgis will be a free agent in March.
Miami’s Cody Parkey hasn’t shown a very big leg, but he’s a very accurate kicker (91.3% on FGs last year). If he doesn’t head back to Miami, he could be an option.
When looking at the college ranks, there are a few kickers that could get drafted. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson is probably the best of the class, and he’s one of four kickers that received a combine invite. The others are Florida’s Eddy Pineiro, Nebraska’s Drew Brown, and Miami’s Mike Badgley.
What are your thoughts on the specialists for the Bears in 2018?