Bears

Bears should avoid knee-jerk reactions to Robbie Gould struggles

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Bears should avoid knee-jerk reactions to Robbie Gould struggles

Perhaps it’s fitting right about now that Robbie Gould’s NFL career began with the training camp of the New England Patriots, and kicker Adam Vinatieri. Because right about now Vinatieri offers some intriguing angles when evaluating Gould after the latter has missed five of his 14 field goal attempts.

Is Gould done at age 33? Or just going through a dip, which happens to just about everyone in his line of work?

Consider Vinatieri, who at age 41 had the most accurate single season (98.6 percent on FG’s) of his 20-year career. As an aside, seven-time Pro Bowl’er Morten Anderson had his highest percentage (89.3) in the last of his 25 seasons before retiring in 2007 at age 47.

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To begin with, the NFL doesn’t grade on a curve. It is a pure form of pass-fail: win-lose, maybe a tie now and again.

But comparisons for the sake of perspective can be useful, or at least informational, certainly in the case of Gould, whose two missed field goals contributed mightily to the Bears’ loss last Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers. Those haven’t been and aren’t expected to be the norm.

“For a guy that's been around as long as Robbie,” Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers said, “he's got his ways of fixing things, some mechanical things that he goes through and makes sure that he details everything out and you trust a guy like that to bounce back because he has many times.”

The point here is to place Gould’s situation in some sort of context deeper than simply that he’s been good for a long time. And the context reflects well on Gould for the future, not just the past or even present.

The ideal is to have a dependable kicker for a long time, but longevity requires periodic patience with a sometimes-mercurial position. For that reason, the Gould reference point will be Vinatieri, who turns 43 this month and shared a training camp with Gould, whose 34th birthday comes two days after Vinatieri’s Dec. 28. If the Bears get from Gould what the Patriots and then the Colts have from Vinatieri, Gould will rank among the great free-agent finds of NFL history.

The Bears had the good fortune of Gould not catching on with elsewhere after he spent time in the New England Patriots 2005 training camp with Vinatieri.

Talk of Gould’s demise as an NFL kicker began with some seriousness last season when he converted just nine of 12 field goals through 12 games before going on IR with a quad injury. With five misses through 12 games this season, Gould’s conversion rate still stands at 83.9 percent.

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Vinatieri has had six sub-80-percent seasons in his 18 full seasons. Gould has had never been worse than 83.3 percent (2010) in any of his seven 16-game seasons.

But the more relevant point is not the past, but the future. What can the Bears expect from Gould, who is signed through the 2017 season?

“I wouldn't say his skill has trended downward,” Rodgers said. “Time will tell on everything as it relates to the entire season. He's had a lot of good games, and he's hit a lot of good kicks. Hopefully, it was a bad day and we'll see moving forward.”

Gould is not Vinatieri, so projections aren’t easy. But Vinatieri from the age of 34, the year he left New England for Indianapolis, has more than justified the Colts’ faith in him, converting 80 percent or better in six of his eight full Indianapolis seasons, with an indoor home field.

Vinatieri has missed two PAT’s this year with the new kicking point. Gould has missed one, blocked in the Oakland game.

The Bears have given no indication of contemplating a change at a set-it-and-forget-it position, not even bothering with a camp leg through preseason this year. But teams have been rewarded for staying with proven kickers through rough spots and the Bears should be in no rush to replace Gould.

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

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USA TODAY

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

About this time a year ago the Bears were setting up for the annual NFL beauty pageant in Indianapolis, sitting with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and with myriad roster decisions to address with both that draft and free agency. Because of the Bears’ lofty draft position, even more scrutiny and attention swirled around the college prospects (Deshaun Watson, Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas, not enough on Mitch Trubisky as it turned out, a testimonial to GM Ryan Pace’s ability to keep a secret).

But what was developing in free agency was arguably of even greater significance in what was then the short term, at least for John Fox, as it turned out. And the changed landscape this year bodes considerably better for Pace and the Bears. At least in one important respect.

First, a perspective from last year’s pre-Combine period...

Because of the unsettled quarterback situation – the Bears were working toward Mike Glennon and cutting Jay Cutler two weeks later – and concerns about a possible lame-duck situation for Fox, free agents and their agents were willing to look at the Bears but only if the Bears would pony up excessive guaranteed dollars. The worry any time a coach is heading into a tipping-point year is that if things go badly, the coach and staff are gone, and the resulting changes will alter the job situation of that particular veteran player.

So the likes of cornerbacks A.J. Bouye or Stephon Gilmore opted for less total money from Jacksonville and New England, respectively, because the Bears weren’t offering higher guarantees to compensate for the uncertainty.

(One of the reasons then-President/CEO Michael McCaskey stated to this reporter for firing Mike Ditka after the 1992 season was a concern over the negative pall Ditka cast over playing for the Bears as the NFL prepared for the 1993 start of free agency. A quarter-century later, Pace didn’t fire Fox because of free agents’ aversion to Fox, but the overall wasn’t making Pace’s job any easier.)

Would Alshon Jeffery have stayed if...

On a slightly different tack: Would Alshon Jeffery have given the Bears a more receptive look had the quarterback position been addressed sooner in the Fox/Pace tenure? Jeffery took less from the Eagles in a one-year prove-it deal, not because Philadelphia was so much warmer than Chicago, but in large part because of where the offensive arrow was pointing in Chicago with Fox, Dowell Loggains and an unsettled quarterback situation.

Not insignificantly in the Jeffery case: Jeffery had four choices – Bears, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Philadelphia. The Colts weren’t sure about Andrew Luck, coming off shoulder surgery and ultimately missing all of ’17. The Vikings were resting then on brittle Sam Bradford, whose knee broke down early, and Case Keenum wasn’t CASE KEENUM at that point. The Bears with Loggains and Glennon? Jeffery didn’t go with Philadelphia, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz only for the money, which did come anyway.

The Bears have “fixed” all of those issues in the year that’s played out since Jeffery signed with the Eagles almost concurrent with the Bears moving on from Cutler. None of that matters now in the least with Jeffery, Bouye, Gilmore or any other options that demanded too much guaranteed money or spurned the Bears back then, but it does matter going into the run-up to free agency over the next couple weeks.

Why this in fact matters more than the draft is that, while sound organizations are grounded in quality drafting, the reality is that in virtually every offseason, more starters for that season are acquired via free agency than the draft. Last year’s draft centerpiece was Trubisky, though he wasn’t supposed to start last season. But free agents Glennon, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps and Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright were.

The money pit

Longtime Bears and NFL personnel chief Bill Tobin once remarked back in the beginning of free agency, “Just because you pay a guy $2 million doesn’t make him a $2-million player.” That still applies, adjusted for inflation. And that could make this free agency dicey for the Bears.

Because price isn’t always determined solely on quality; it’s a matter of supply and demand. And while the Bears are among those with the greatest estimated space under the projected cap of $178 million, the others way up on the list include Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Jets, Houston and Tampa Bay – all teams with five or fewer wins in ’17 and expected to be the most aggressive in using free agency to fix gaping holes. The Bears have a lot of money to spend, but so do a whole lot of others.

Meaning: A lot of dollars will be chasing a select few players, which will make some of them overpaid, not unlike Glennon was last offseason (how many apparently better options were there?) or a couple of others, who will be paid like $2 million players even if they aren’t, adjusted for inflation.

The result is another offseason of brinksmanship for Pace, this time in need of better results than his first three free agencies if the outcome for his second head coach is to be better than it was for his first.

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

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Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

The Bears are looking for an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, and there may be one available.

The Dolphins used the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry on Tuesday, in a move that many believe signals the team's desire to deal him instead of losing him in free agency for nothing.

Landry put up excellent numbers last season, catching 112 passes for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the league in catches and was fourth in touchdown receptions but was just 17th in yards. His yards per reception ranked 108th of 139 qualifying players.

Still, it's no secret he'd be an upgrade for the Bears at wide receiver. Though they'll get Cam Meredith and Kevin White back from injury, the corps largely struggled and didn't give rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky much help.

Luckily, they may be interested in Landry, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

"There are a couple teams that we should keep an eye on as far as a potential Jarvis Landry landing spot......the Chicago Bears are looking for receviers," he said.

Rapoport also mentioned the Titans, Panthers and Saints as options for Landry. The franchise tag will pay Landry about $16 million before he becomes a free agent in 2019 (or has the franchise tag used on him again).