Robbie Gould on his release by Bears: 'It was performance-based'

Robbie Gould on his release by Bears: 'It was performance-based'

If he is embittered by the abrupt, surprising end of his legendary Bears career, it was nowhere in Robbie Gould’s voice on Tuesday.

“I’ve just had a heck of a run, but all great things come to an end,” Gould told after talking earlier privately in a call to Bears owner Virginia McCaskey. “I’m not upset about it at all. It’s performance-based, and I know they have a lot of very difficult decisions to make. I always tried to make those decisions hard for them.

“But I couldn’t have had a better story than I’ve had here over the last 11 years. I’ve had so many memories. How could I possibly be bitter or mad. As I told Mrs. McCaskey, ‘My only big regret is that I didn’t win you a Super Bowl.’

“What I’m going to miss is the building, Halas Hall, and all the people, talking every day to [equipment manager] Tony Medlin and everyone. I’ll just have to do it by phone now.

“I’ll be a Bear and Bears fan for life.”

[RELATED: Bears' release of Robbie Gould appeared to be two-step process]

Gould said that he was surprised when he got the call to come over to Bears offices and meet with coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace. But he said he and wife Lauren currently plan on making Chicago their permanent home, but his immediate plan is to continue playing. Whether the couple and two young children all move to his new team city, they hadn’t decided yet.

“We’re going through all the options now,” Gould said. “I’m still playing at a high level, and I think a fresh start’ll even be good, even though it’s awfully hard to say goodbye to Chicago and the Bears, who made all of this possible.”

Performance-based? Actually, yes

Because of Gould’s status within the game and all he contributed to one of the NFL’s charter franchise, objectivity can be difficult, particularly when his replacement — Connor Barth — hasn’t been his career equal to date.

But Gould himself saw the Bears’ decision as performance-based, and a hard look at comparisons between Gould and Barth support Gould’s assessment.

The most obvious reason, however, may have been qualitative: The head coach of the Chicago Bears simply wasn’t sufficiently confident in his kicker.

“At the end of the day, we found an option that we were comfortable with,” Fox said on Monday, a pretty clear statement that he and the Bears just weren’t comfortable with Gould. “And everything we do is based on performance and what we feel like gets us better.”

Fox’s comfort level with Gould took a hit in Cleveland, which may have still been preseason but Gould missed more PAT’s (two) in that game as Barth has for his career (one). And Gould missed one PAT in each of the last three regular seasons. (For comparative balance, however, Gould missed exactly one PAT in his first eight NFL seasons.

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Taking a hard comparative look at the performances of the new guy vs. the greatest kicker in franchise history suggests that Fox and Pace have their reasons.

Category Gould Barth
Age 34 30
Salary $3 million $885,000
Career FGs 85.4% 84.8%
Outdoor FGs 84.4% 83.6%

Gould is incrementally better when the two careers are compared, and that includes outdoor field-goal attempts, extremely relevant given that the Bears typically play at least 12 of their 16 games every season outdoors.

Which then points to age and money as factors. The Bears would have paid $3 million vs. less than $1 million for a kicker four years older and who has converted less than one more field goal per 100 attempts over his career. Were this strictly a money move, the Bears could find justification.

Recent performance, however, is more relevant, and on that basis, other reasons arise.

Category Gould Barth
2014-15 FGs 82.4% 86.7%
2014-15 outdoor FGs 78.0% 85.7%

If there is one other single biggest reason for concern, it lies in Soldier Field. Not the annual dreaded-turf drudgery, but rather, the wind. Gould successfully achieved his level of greatness kicking in one of the most historically difficult kicking venues in the NFL, with the supplementary added difficulty factor of playing the final month of the season in sometimes Arctic conditions.

Barth has never kicked in a regular season game in Soldier Field. But he has been better outdoors over the past two seasons than Gould, the NFL’s best.

“I’ve played in some colder weather places in Denver and some like that,” Barth said. “You’ve just got to go out there and trust what you’ve been practicing all week and just go out there and take it one kick at a time.”

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.