Thanks to one front office decision and one inconceivable bounce, Chicago Bears fans have really spent way too much time concerned with the kicker position over the last few years.
It, of course, started when Ryan Pace decided to let Robbie Gould walk. It’s not too often kickers reach that level of popularity with the fans (Kevin Butler is the only Bears’ kicker that could come close to Gould in that way), and plenty of fans weren’t pleased with Pace’s decision, even if Gould had been down the previous couple of seasons. The fact that Gould has had seven solid kicking seasons since his Chicago departure certainly would show that Gould had the last laugh there.
Fast forward to the infamous double-doink in January of 2019 that led to the circus coming to town with kicking tryouts and a kicker trade and countless other ways that Pace and Matt Nagy tried to solve the kicking problem. The circus led to one season of Eddy Pineiro before they settled on veteran Cairo Santos in 2020. Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, in Pineiro’s two seasons he’s had since leaving Chicago, he’s 41 of 43 in his field goal attempts and hasn’t missed from 50+ yards, but I digress.
Santos has had some nice stretches in Chicago with multiple extended consecutive field goal streaks but he’s had inconsistency issues as well. Santos hasn’t missed from inside 40 yards on field goal attempts in Chicago, but his accuracy from 40 plus has been a bit spotty, and of course, we all remember his point after woes and how that actually impacted on-field decision making.
Santos enters the final year of his contract and if the Bears decide to go another direction, he only leaves behind $1.5 million in dead cap. There is certainly no reason that the Bears can’t go in another direction if a kicker outplays Santos in July and August.
Enter Andre Szmyt.
Szmyt was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse. Szmyt is actually a local guy, he’s originally from Lake Forest and attended Vernon Hills before heading to Syracuse where he had a lengthy and successful career. As a freshman, he won the Lou Groza award for the best kicker in the country. Szmyt’s best year was his freshman year, but he dealt with plenty of changes on the coaching staff (and his holder) where many people felt some of his decrease in productivity was out of his control.
With his college successes, Szmyt wasn’t just signed as a camp leg, he was signed as legitimate competition for Santos. Santos will clearly have the inside edge to keep his job, but if Szmyt shows that he is as accurate as Santos and the power in his leg that Santos lacks, he absolutely has a chance to unseat the veteran and earn the kicker’s job this summer.
Most likely, Santos won’t be the kicker in 2024 once his contract expires, but Ryan Poles understands that it’s better to make a change one year too early, than one year too late. Santos has nearly a decade of experience on Szmyt, but if the young leg shines in August, you can expect Poles, Matt Eberflus and Richard Hightower to look long and hard at the kicker position and they might just make a change and give the nod to Szmyt.