Because time is a flat circle, the thing I want to highlight from attending the final Bears’ full practice open to the media of 2020 is…
Eddy Piñeiro did not attempt a single kick Saturday at Soldier Field. But Cairo Santos did, and made all of his attempts, which included a mix of PATs and medium-distance field goals.
Kicker uncertainty is back in Chicago.
While the Bears still have two weeks before beginning the 2020 season against the Detroit Lions Sept. 13, during the nine practices fully open to the media, we did not see Piñeiro attempt a single field goal. But here’s a timeline of where we stand with the Bears’ unsettled – again – kicking situation:
Aug. 11: The Bears released Ramiz Ahmed, making room for safety Marqui Christian on the 80-man roster.
“We’re down to 80 as opposed to 90, so you have to make some decisions there,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor explained eight days later on Aug. 19. “It comes to a numbers game.”
Aug. 22: Matt Nagy is asked why we haven’t seen Piñeiro kick. His answer isn’t very good, and he explains a day later it’s because he hadn’t talked to Piñeiro yet about the move to sign Santos.
Aug. 23: The Bears sign Santos, and Nagy reveals Piñeiro “has a little bit of a groin” injury. Nagy, though, frames the move to sign Santos as a “contingency” with the uncertainty of week-to-week player availability in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We need to have another kicker on this roster,” Nagy said.
Aug. 29: Santos makes every one of his field goals while Piñeiro stays on the sideline during the entirety of the Bears’ scrimmage at Soldier Field.
“(Santos) did a pretty good job,” Nagy said. “That's all we ask for in that situation is for him to make kicks, and then wherever Eddy is at he's able to go ahead and get that bad boy and strong as he can get it and then we've got to make a decision based off of that.”
So what’s going on here? Why was Ahmed cut because of a "numbers game" but Santos signed as a "contingency" plan less than two weeks later?
This doesn’t sound like – nor has it looked like – a competition. There's no Augusta silence, no "dealer's choice," no switching between these two guys in practice. Only one has kicked that we've seen (Santos).
The Bears, it seems, got rid of Ahmed and shortly after realized how precarious it would be to only have one kicker on their roster. There’s a need to have two kickers in the building, so in case something happens to one the other doesn’t have to undergo COVID-19 intake testing, which could delay his availability past the time he’s actually needed. The Bears, then, would go into a game without a kicker.
(Punter Pat O'Donnell is not an option, as evidenced by his, um, lack of success warming up at halftime of a game against the 49ers in 2017...a game in which Santos, then the Bears' kicker, suffered a groin injury. Time really is a flat circle.)
But while this isn't a true competition, the Bears will have to make a decision on which kicker makes the team a week from Saturday, when rosters will be reduced from 80 to 53. The NFL’s relaxed restrictions on practice squads means not only would there be a place for Santos on the 16-player practice squad, but he could be on it despite playing in 67 games during his career. The expectation would be a healthy Piñeiro makes the active roster, even if he didn't kick much (or at all) in August.
If he isn’t healthy, though – does he get waived with the goal to get him on the practice squad, with Santos making the active roster because the Bears just need a healthy player on Sept. 13?
It’s impossible to rule that out without seeing Piñeiro kick at all. The Bears would prefer to roll with Piñeiro in 2020, but if he’s not healthy – well, that’s why Santos was signed in the first place.