Just as Ryan Pace’s pre-draft press conference was wrapping up Tuesday afternoon at Halas Hall, a report — which NBC Sports Chicago confirmed — dropped: Robbie Gould wants out of San Francisco, pulling his contract proposals and formally requesting a trade.
Gould did not report to the voluntary beginning of the San Francisco 49ers’ offseason program, which started earlier this month, and he told ESPN he wants to play closer to his family — which resides in Chicago.
The 49ers don’t have to do anything, given they placed the franchise tag on the 36-year-old in February, and could hope that Gould ultimately shows up for their season opener on Sept. 8. That’s important to note. It’s conceivable that a kicker with the kind of track record of Gould could show up the day the regular season begins and be fine.
So that’s where a dive into Gould’s trade request begins. The 49ers can claim they have leverage, and figure a guy who still has some good years left in his leg will ultimately show up. In other words: John Lynch isn’t going to give Gould up for nothing.
Kicker trades, though, are rare in recent NFL history. A few recent ones: The Pittsburgh Steelers traded a sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Josh Scobee in 2015; in 2014, the Denver Broncos traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the New York Giants for Brandon McManus, who was likely to be released prior to the season anyway. And Cody Parkey, way back in 2014, was traded from the Indianapolis Colts (who didn't need him) to the Philadelphia Eagles (who did) for a running back during the preseason.
The Scobee trade may be the best measuring stick, given he was expensive (he earned $3.45 million in 2015) and effective (he made 87.5 percent of his kicks in the four years prior to the trade). So for these purposes, let’s say it’ll take a sixth-round pick to acquire Gould. A few things to consider:
1. The money.
The Bears have $16 million in cap space right now, which will decrease to around $13 million after this week’s NFL Draft. So they have the money to acquire Gould right now, though presumably trading for him would require a contract extension. Currently, the Bears are $12 million over the cap in 2020, and still need to hammer out a contract extension for offensive lineman Cody Whitehair and, possibly, edge rusher Leonard Floyd. Cap space is exceedingly fluid — more likely, the Bears are actually about $2 million over next year’s cap, if it rises by $10 million, and that doesn’t include rollover cap — and the Bears could make Gould work. It’d take some creativity, and perhaps a difficult cut here or there, but it could work.
2. The draft.
They could offer a 2020 sixth round pick, either their own or the conditional one they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles for Jordan Howard, which could rise to a fifth-round pick if Howard meets a certain threshold of production (fans frustrated with the Howard trade likely wouldn’t be if the pick the Bears got for him got them Gould, right?). After cashing in to acquire edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Anthony Miller, the Bears only have five picks in 2019. Draft picks are an incredibly valuable resource — it’s the best way to add good players on cheap contracts — and trading more away to bring in a kicker may give Pace some pause.
3. The market.
Another place that’s close to home for the Gould family: Green Bay. Could the Packers jettison Mason Crosby — who’s in the last year of his contract and has shown signs of decline the last few years — in favor of Gould? A few other teams close to Chicago either don’t need a kicker (the Colts have Adam Vinatieri, the Lions have Matt Prater, the Chiefs have Harrison Butker), don’t have the money to pull off a trade (the Vikings have just under $2 million in cap space) or don't look ready to contend (the Bengals are...just kind of there).
The Browns could be a fit, given Gould’s proven ability to kick in poor weather and their designs on competing in 2019, though rookie Greg Joseph hit 85 percent of his kicks in 2018 and is inexpensive. So the question here: What would other teams offer for Gould? Better than a sixth-round pick? And how many teams would actually have interest?
4. The guys on the roster. The Bears signed three kickers over the last few months: First Redford Jones, then Chris Blewitt, then Elliott Fry. A handful of tryouts isn’t enough to get the full picture of who these guys are, but the best solution for the Bears would be to solve their kicking problems with an effective, inexpensive player. That being said: None of those three players has ever kicked in an NFL game, and it’d be hard to criticize the Bears if they didn’t give any of them a shot in favor of adding Gould.
“For us, and I've said this all along really since the offseason started, it's (about) let's increase our competition there,” Pace said Tuesday. “As you know, we have three on the roster currently. Doesn't mean we can't add to that still going forward and creating as many pressure situations here as we can and just let the dust settle where it may.”
5. The pressure.
Windows to win open and shut awfully quickly in the NFL. For all we know, the Bears’ best chance to win a Super Bowl with this current core of players — or with this coaching staff and front office — was in 2018, only to have it brutally end with Cody Parkey’s infamous double-doink. It would be one of the greatest failures in franchise history if another team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations saw their season end because of a missed field goal.
Gould's only missed three of his 85 field goals in the last three years, having re-made himself after being released by the Bears (under a previous coaching staff) prior to the 2016 season. If he indeed is available, he represents the Bears’ best shot at fixing the kicking issues that’ve plagued this team since letting him go.
So clearly, if Gould indeed is available, the Bears have plenty about which to think. It’s not as cut-and-dry as simply shouting “bring back Robbie!” in the general direction of Halas Hall. But if it takes a sixth-round pick, and a contract is worked out with Gould that minimizes his cap hit in at least 2020, it’s easy to see why the pros would outweigh the cons for the Bears.