Connor Barth

Bears reportedly to sign Mike Nugent to replace injured Cairo Santos

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USA TODAY

Bears reportedly to sign Mike Nugent to replace injured Cairo Santos

Cairo Santos' reign as the Bears' kicker did not last long.

The guy signed to replace the departed Connor Barth injured his groin ahead of Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers and is heading to injured reserve, according to a report from the Tribune's Brad Biggs.

Biggs also reported that the team is expected to sign Mike Nugent, the former Ohio State Buckeye, to take over at kicker.

The 35-year-old Nugent was drafted in the second round back in 2005 and has spent the last decade-plus kicking in the NFL for the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. He's hit 80.8 percent of his field-goal tries in his career.

Kicker has been a drama-filled position for the Bears this season, with Barth's unimpressive tenure coming to an end after he missed a game-winning field-goal attempt against the Detroit Lions. Santos was brought aboard in the wake of that game, but an injury has apparently ended his season early after hitting one of his two field-goal tries in his two games.

Nugent had some NFL action earlier this season with the Cowboys, playing in four games. He made seven of his nine attempts.

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

With Connor Barth waived, trying to make sense of why the Bears signed him in the first place

With Connor Barth waived, trying to make sense of why the Bears signed him in the first place

The Bears addressed an open wound at the core of their special teams with the waiver of kicker Connor Barth and signing of former Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.

Not to spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror, but a question still lingers, the kind of inevitable second-guessing that follows any failed personnel decision, because so many of those moves made a lot of sense at the time: What were the Bears thinking when they opted at the end of the 2016 preseason to replace Robbie Gould with Barth?

An easy question to ask at this point, with Barth missing a game-tying field-goal try from 46 yards to leave the final Bears-Lions score at 27-24 on Sunday. It’s also easy to forget that Gould’s exit traced to a missed 36-yarder for a win over San Francisco to reach .500, followed a week later by a 50-yard miss for a tie to reach overtime against Washington. Even though Gould made his final seven field-goal attempts of that season, he missed two PATs during the 2016 preseason, reopening a confidence wound and sealing the deal, because when the head coach loses confidence in a player, that player is gone.

Easiest to forget, particularly right now, is that Barth converted 15 of 16 field-goal attempts in 2014 with the Denver Broncos — coached by John Fox. Barth was successful that year on four of his five attempts from beyond 40 yards, a range at which Sunday’s miss against Detroit left him 6-for-10 as a Bear.

Jettisoning Gould two years into the four-year, $15 million contract he signed in late 2013 wasn’t entirely about money. But it remains head-scratching if only because Gould was successful on 84.6 percent of his field goals in 2015. But in fairness to Fox, general manager Ryan Pace and Bears evaluators, Barth had been successful on 86.5 percent of his field goals (115-for-133) in the five seasons before the Bears signed him.