As apart of an ongoing series, Taking Inventory aims to assess every position set on the Bears, taking a peek at the previous season and provide a sneak peek into projections for the certain group. For day nine, we take a gander at the kicking crew.
An NFL kicker’s entire career precariously orbits around an uncompromising game of staying quiet. Hit the field goals, make the PATs, aim for touchbacks, never make too much noise. That is until three points separate a team from a riveting victory and coldhearted loss. Yes, the fabled game-winning field goals are where kickers earn their keep and make their money. Now game-winning kicks nowadays have grown into media darlings and cheap children sports flicks finales but sports fans simply eat up the concept of this all-or-nothing.
Whether draining a buzzer beater for the finals, a walk-off homer, or an overtime penalty shot, do-or-die situations ring true as the most memorable sports moments. Because of this exclusive and weighty responsibility, kickers will always have a special place on an NFL team, no matter how infrequently their numbers get called. This unique weight on their shoulders, however, also brings the shortest leash in sports.
The Bears saw that other side of the coin and ended a career due to a botched game saver. Still a sore spot in the hearts of Bears fans, Connor Barth’s wide-right 46-yarder against the Lions lost him his job and led him to his eventual, according-to-Wikipedia doom. Though in the midst of the worst season of regularly consistent career, it still shines as an example of the remorseless cycle kickers endure. One wrong step and it will be lights out.
It does stand to show a fatal catch-22 in teams attitude towards kickers. While inexpensive, a great kicker cannot be easy to track down nor developed. A franchise kicker can almost be as tall of an order as a franchise quarterback. This and the last season saw the Bears ignorantly discover this the hard way in obtaining a replacement for the former franchise kicker Robbie Gould, a name who certified not only as the most successful kicker in Bears but a complete fan favorite for his irresistible, boyish charm.
They initially had expected a thirty-year-old Barth to accept his throne a couple of seasons ago but he bombastically flamed out in spectacular fashion. A mediocre year melted into a disastrous one, and the botched game-tyer against the Lions merely secured his pink slip. To add to the list, former second-rounder Roberto Aguayo attempted and failed for the job in preseason while Barth’s replacement Cairo Santos went one for two and took a nosedive for the IR. Mike Nugent covered for the final few games, hitting all four of his attempts but at a tired thirty-six years of age, can’t be relied on further.
The search may have ended with the merciful signing of the former Miami Dolphin Cody Parkey. The Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent and subsequently traded him to the Eagles, where he put up a Pro Bowl campaign draining thirty-two field goals. After a curious injury in warm-ups ended his Philadelphia career in only two seasons, he took up a journeyman role, setting sail for the Browns for a year and then transferring to the Dolphins.
In his lone season with the Dolphins, Parkey put together the finest campaign of his short career, hitting at a stellar 91.3 percent field goal clip. Now as a Chicago Bear, the twenty-six-year-old should hopefully stick around if he impresses enough.
Punting, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have the equal significance as a kicker. While not necessarily worthless, a punter’s impact comes in nearly insignificant spurts and often requires a great deal to have their plays garner anything beyond a bathroom break. The thin film separating a good punter and a great punter very rarely affects the scoreboard, popping up only when the rest of his squadron make a crude mistake.
If punting earned bragging rights, however, the Bears would have a decent amount to boast about. Selected in the dangerously high sixth round in the 2014 draft, the Ray Guy award finalist had a rocky first few seasons. Only averaging forty-four yards per boot, he remained on the team only because of the face-palm futility of waiving a punter. But he absolutely exploded this past season, raising his average to a strong 47.0 yards per punt, putting his leg into the top seven in the league.
Though thoroughly unloved, undermining the value of kicking can lead to a hairy position full of frustrating botches and potential heartbreakers, forcing a silent and painful slapstick search for the underappreciated art. Perhaps the Bears have found their replacement for Gould, perhaps they will have to resort to a shameful late-round pickup to lock down the kicking. Either way, the punting will be in great shape and Parkey shouldn’t stoop to the baffling heartbreak of Barth.