Ever since Cody Parkey’s now infamous “double doink” field goal miss against the Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Game, hype was built up around a potential Bears and Robbie Gould reunion. Chicago’s all-time leading scorer was set to be a free agent, has his family reside in the Chicagoland area, and by all accounts wanted to come back to the Bears. The math added up and made perfect sense for an otherwise complete Bears roster with a glaring hole at kicker.
Unfortunately, the reunion won’t be happening as Gould’s incumbent team in the 49ers placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on the stalwart kicker, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Gould is the first player of the 2019 NFL off-season to receive a franchise tag; exemplifying his importance in an ongoing rebuild in San Francisco and pushing away other teams like the Bears with a gaping hole at his position.
Ah, memories to last forever:
The Bears could technically still place an offer in for Gould in this event. As a non-exclusively tagged player, the 36-year-old is free to negotiate with prospective organizations interested in his services. However, the 49ers can match any and all offers the Bears give him. In the event that they don’t match a Chicago contract for Gould, the 49ers would be entitled to receive two first-round picks as compensation for losing him.
In other words, Bears general manager Ryan Pace would be crazy to risk losing that much draft capital for a kicker. It’s not happening so it’s time for the Bears to look elsewhere.
As the Bears don’t get to rectify what now looks like a gigantic mistake when they originally released Gould in 2016, their search for the proverbial answer at kicker must start elsewhere. There are options on the free agent market as the Falcons recently released 43-year-old Matt Bryant. The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski — who may yet to return to New England on his own franchise tag — could also be in consideration. Both would be sizable and reliable upgrades; especially in comparison to Connor Barth and Cody Parkey, among others.
The far more likely route the Bears elect to travel at fixing kicker is in playing the undrafted free agent game. If that means bringing in someone from this year’s class, so be it. If that means giving someone like Andy Phillips a second chance, it’s not an awful idea either. Some of pro football’s best active kickers like the Ravens’ Justin Tucker and Saints’ Wil Lutz both went undrafted. Investing a late round draft selection also could be in play as a guy like the mega-legged Rams’ Greg Zuerlein is a former sixth-round pick.
Whatever choice the Bears and general manager Ryan Pace do end up making they better at least have some competition in place, and they better be prepared to get creative. Losing a chance at a Super Bowl with an otherwise well-rounded roster because of deficiencies at kicker won’t be tolerated again. If it wasn’t fine when Pace’s Bears weren’t relevant, the heat will only grow for a contending team. Look at the reaction to Parkey’s misses. Magnify it ten-fold if another failure of a postseason miss or two happens.
Why the Bears don’t elect to follow my sound advice and make a motion toward banning all relevant kicking is beyond me. That they would allow their fate and success of their quality roster to ever rest in the hands off of one of the flukiest of football plays is beyond me. Their real and most justifiable solution is to ban kicking with the NFL’s competition committee and I say that earnestly. I’ve said it long before the Bears had issues at kicker, too. Look at the Vikings as an example. NFL football would be so much better without placekicking and you won’t convince me otherwise.
Until that sensible move happens in pro football (if it ever happens), the Bears’ search for The Answer at kicker unmercifully continues.
Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for many fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.