The Bears prefer to find the solution to their kicking problem on the cheap with either Elliott Fry or Eddy Pineiro, both of whom will earn less than $600,000 in 2019. It’s much more economical to find their version of Baltimore’s Justin Tucker or New Orleans’ Wil Lutz — both of whom were undrafted free agents — rather than expend more cash on top of the dead money remaining on Cody Parkey’s flop of a four-year contract.
But after OTAs, and with about three weeks remaining until training camp begins, the Bears don’t appear any closer to solving their kicking woes than they were when they decided to release Parkey. Fry and Pineiro will have plenty of questions to answer in Bourbonnais and preseason games before they can become a solution.
The stakes are high with a Super Bowl-caliber roster outside of this one position (if you’re wondering why kickers have, and will, receive so much attention — that’s why). And that means the Bears will not only have to evaluate Fry and Pineiro, but every other kicker who could potentially become available throughout the course of training camp/preseason and then over the frenzied 48 hours of cut-down weekend in early September.
So Ryan Pace, Josh Lucas, Champ Kelly and the Bears’ coaching staff will have some options if Fry and Pineiro don’t pan out. As of early July, 10 teams (not including the Bears) have two kickers on their roster. That means 10 kickers will become available at some point between late July and Labor Day weekend from this list:
Baltimore Ravens: Justin Tucker, Kaare Vedvik
Tucker isn’t going anywhere after signing a four-year, $20 million deal with $12 million guaranteed to stay with the Ravens. He’s currently the gold standard for finding undrafted kickers — Tucker has made 90 percent of his field goal attempts, including an impressive 70 percent (38 of 54) from 50 or more yards in seven NFL seasons.
Vedvik, though, will be effectively trying out for teams in need of a kicker during preseason games. The Ravens received trade interest in the Norwegian after he connected on eight of nine field goal attempts during preseason play last year, but he suffered injuries in a Labor Day weekend incident serious enough to land him on the Ravens’ reserve non-football injury list.
Vedvik is back with the Ravens now, and while it may seem odd that the team would have another kicker on its roster, coach John Harbaugh offered a clear reason for it:
“I fully expect that he’ll kick well enough for us to trade him,” he said.
Buffalo Bills: Stephen Hauschka, Chase McLaughlin
The 34-year-old Hauschka has one year left on his contract, and the Bills would save $2 million against the salary cap by releasing him. But Hauschka, who made 88.7 percent of his field goals from 2011-2017, slumped last year, only connecting on 78.6 percent of his 28 field goal attempts — with all six of his misses coming from 40 yards or longer.
McLaughlin, an undrafted free agent who played his college ball at Illinois, could push Hauschka during camp. He made 20 of 25 field goals for the Fighting Illini in 2018, with four makes in five tries from 50 or more yards.
Cincinnati Bengals: Tristan Vizcaino, Randy Bullock
Bullock is the incumbent in Cincinnati and made 82.6 percent of his kicks in 2018, though that number is a little misleading — he only attempted 23 kicks, and three of his four misses came from 50 or more yards.
Vizcaino didn’t kick for a pro team in 2018, though he did make a 61-yard field goal during a rookie minicamp practice with the New York Jets:
Notably, though, Vizcaino was a placekicker for just one year at Washington (he exclusively punted prior to that), making 12 of 19 attempts with a long of 44 yards.
Cleveland Browns: Greg Joseph, Austin Seibert
This is one of the more intriguing kicking battles happening around the NFL. Joseph, as an undrafted rookie, made 17 of 20 field goals with a long of 51 yards for the Browns last year. Seibert, meanwhile, was a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft and is the leading scorer in FBS history with the 499 points he tallied at Oklahoma. He was one of three kickers invited to the NFL Combine.
Somebody is going to lose this competition, and depending on how each kicker performs the Bears could manage to scoop up a quality kicker out of it.
Denver Broncos: Brandon McManus, Taylor Bertolet
McManus probably is safe — he still has $2.5 million in dead cap (spread across two years) attached to his contract if he’s released — but the Broncos brought in Bertolet from the now-defunct AAF to provide some competition.
Bertolet made four field goals of 52 or more yards in the AAF, though he hasn’t made an NFL regular season roster since going undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2016. McManus has made a little over 80 percent of his field goal attempts in five years with the Broncos, including going 13/28 from 50-plus yards.
Green Bay Packers: Mason Crosby, Sam Ficken
Crosby, who’s been the Packers’ kicker since 2007, has one year left on his contract and could be released for $3.6 million in cap savings, making his competition with Ficken noteworthy. Crosby only made 80 percent of his kicks over the last two years, including a brutal four-miss game against the Lions in 2018.
Ficken has made two of three field goal attempts and four of five PATs in two stints with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. He made 72 percent of his field goals in four years at Penn State, highlighted by a career-best 82.8 percent success rate in his senior year in 2014.
Indianapolis Colts: Adam Vinatieri, Cole Hedlund
Vinatieri certainly isn’t going anywhere, so the Colts may be like the Ravens and try swing a trade for Hedlund (they did the same in 2014 when Parkey was shipped to the Philadelphia Eagles for running back David Fluellen).
Hedlund, an undated rookie, played his college ball at Arkansas and North Texas and made 19 of 22 field goal attempts in 2018.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Chris Boswell, Matthew Wright
Boswell’s job is hardly secure despite his four-year contract, not after he made a brutal 65 percent of his field goals in 2018 — a year after he earned a Pro Bowl bid with a 92.1 percent success rate (including 4/4 from 50-plus yards). The Steelers could net $3 million in 2019 cap savings if they cut Boswell, so he’ll have to earn his place by beating out Wright during training camp.
Wright, an undrafted rookie from Central Florida, made 12 of 14 field goals his senior year.
San Francisco 49ers: Robbie Gould, Jonathan Brown
It’s possible the Bears land a kicker from the 49ers who isn’t Gould. Brown hasn’t kicked in an NFL regular season game after playing for Louisville from 2012-2015, but did make all six of his field goal attempts during 2018’s preseason, including a 55-yarder, for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Gould, of course, has yet to sign his franchise tag as his standoff with the 49ers continues. Neither general manager John Lynch nor coach Kyle Shanahan appear willing to give in to Gould’s trade demand, and there’s a chance San Francisco doesn’t budge before the Bears need to make a decision on who their Week 1 kicker will be.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Matt Gay, Cairo Santos
Santos briefly kicked for the Bears in 2017 after an injury pushed him out of Kansas City, and he re-surfaced with the Rams and Buccaneers in 2018, making 14 of 18 kicks. He hasn’t made a field goal of 50 or more yards since 2016, though, which wouldn’t fit with the Bears’ efforts to find a kicker with a strong leg.
Gay was invited to the NFL Combine and was a fifth-round pick in 2019’s draft. He won the Lou Groza Award and made 26 of 31 attempts his senior year at Utah, including multiple 50-plus yarders.