He was the last link to the last Bears Super Bowl team and one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. But in the NFL, the land of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, none of that mattered late Sunday when the Bears cut kicker Robbie Gould, less than a full offseason after Gould had set the franchise mark for points scored, field goals made and field goals made from 50 yards or longer.
That the Bears did not release Gould among the first roster cutdown to 53 on Saturday was perhaps curious. One scenario is that Gould was asked to take a cut from his scheduled $3 million base salary, refused and the Bears then made the move. If Gould was on the roster for game one, his entire 2016 salary would have become guaranteed.
Indeed, in hindsight it now seems curious that the Bears went to training camp with no competition or understudy for Gould, who was coming off two of his weaker NFL seasons after ranking among the top kickers in NFL history going into the 2015 season. GM Ryan Pace spoke of competition at virtually every position, yet the Bears brought in no camp kicker, something they would have done were they seriously concerned about their placekicker.
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Gould’s 2015 regular season also included devastating misses from 40 and 36 yards in a Dec. 6 overtime home loss to San Francisco and a miss from 50 yards with a chance to tie Washington in regulation the following week.
His fortunes may have hit bottom in Thursday’s win at Cleveland in which Gould missed one extra-point attempt and had a second one blocked. He converted all three of his field goals in the game and was 5-for-6 for the preseason. But throughout this offseason and training camp, his accuracy was inconsistent, something not easily dismissed as meaningless after two stretches last season in which he missed three straight field goals.
The second of those comprised the San Francisco-Washington difficulties. The first also involved not just a miss, but also a costly miss, as Gould was wide-left from 51 yards in a game won by the Minnesota Vikings with a field goal as time expired in regulation.
Gould was one of the Bears mainstays ever since he won his job in a kicking competition early in the 2005 season when then-kicker Doug Brien was struggling and down with a back strain.
Gould entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State, going initially in 2005 to the New England Patriots who still had Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri. He was cut by the Patriots, then by the Baltimore Ravens as well before winning that Bears kicking competition in October 2005 to replace Brien. Gould was working construction at the time the Bears called and he did not waste the third NFL chance.
“The Bears gave me my first [real] opportunity,” Gould said later, after signing a four-year deal worth $15 million, with $9 million guaranteed, in late 2013. “There was a lot that went into getting here before that happens, being cut twice to figuring out, ‘You’re only supposed to be here for a few weeks and kick extra points, to becoming a Pro Bowl’er [in 2006] to playing in a Super Bowl to becoming the highest-paid kicker in the history of the National Football League, to the third-highest [percentage] field goal kicker.”
Gould’s accomplishments become all the more remarkable because of his kicking his entire home-game career not only outdoors, but also in one of the NFL’s legendarily difficult kicking venues, Soldier Field.
Fittingly, Gould converted the last seven of his final Bears kicks, including ones of 49, 50 and 51 yards – all outdoors.