Bears

Should the Bears trade for Robbie Gould? The answer is not a cut-and-dry 'yes'

Should the Bears trade for Robbie Gould? The answer is not a cut-and-dry 'yes'

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. 

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Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

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USA Today

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

The Bears battle for the 53-man roster doesn’t have many contentious positions entering training camp.

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy brought back largely the same roster from their breakout 2018 season, finding replacements for the few players gone in free agency.

Outside of kicker, the entire starting lineup is pretty much set for Week 1, and the main competitions to stick with the team are at the bottom of the depth chart.

It leaves the roster with no notable veterans that stand out as candidates to be cut. ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson was asked to name one for an article, and he couldn’t come up with any.

He mentioned Taquan Mizzell, who made the move from running back to wide receiver this offseason, but as Dickerson pointed out “Mizzell is hardly a well-known commodity around the league.”

Former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but the Bears have seemed comfortable keeping him around in a backup role.

The Bears roster has very little fat to trim. The only other player who could potentially qualify is cornerback Sherrick McManis, since the team has so many young players at his position, but he’s been working at safety to increase his value, and he’s one of the team’s best special teams contributors.

The trim down from the 90-man roster shouldn’t have too many significant surprises, which is why so much of the attention this offseason continues to go to the kicker position.

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

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USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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