The Chicago Bears’ 34-22 win Sunday over the Detroit Lions helped build a solid case for why GM Ryan Pace might be the Executive of the Year. Many of his key acquisitions turned in big performances in the team’s first division win in almost two years.
But there is one glaring flaw for Pace: The kicker.
The Bears signed Cody Parkey last offseason to a four-year, $15 million contract that included $9 million in guarantees. During Sunday’s win, Parkey pulled off a stunning feat that any kicker would struggle to repeat.
He hit the upright FOUR times in one game. Twice on field goals, and twice on extra points.
Parkey has made only 13 of 18 field goals (72.2%) and 30 of 32 extra points (93.8%) this season. Both are below league averages for kickers (field goals – 84.2%, extra points – 94.5%). Through nine games, he represents the only real flaw in an otherwise stellar offseason for Pace.
All those moves have contributed to the Bears’ 6-3 record. After striping everything down to the studs the last three seasons, Pace and company finally seem to have everything pointed in the right direction.
But kicking woes have been a consistent problem throughout Pace’s tenure, and they started from the moment he cut Robbie Gould prior to the 2016 season.
Counting Parkey, Pace has signed four kickers to replace the Bears’ all-time leading scorer. Through 41 games, they’ve gone a combined 47 of 63 on field goals (74.6%).
And what has Gould done since leaving Chicago? He’s made 70 of 73 field goals (95.7%) in 36 games.
When you look at the season-by-season breakdown between the Bears’ combination of kickers and Gould, it will make you nauseous.
|Seasons||Kicker||Bears FGM/FGA||Bears FG %||Bears XPM/XPA||Bears XP %|
|Total Through 41 Games||47/63||74.6%||87/92||94.6%|
*Connor Barth – FGM/FGA: 11/16, FG %: 68.8%, XPM/XPA: 17/ 17, XP%: 100% (10 games)
Cairo Santos – FGM/FGA: 1/2, FG%: 50%, XPM/XPA: 2/ 2, XP%: 100% (2 games)
Mike Nugent – FGM/FGA: 4/ 4, FG%: 100%, XPM/XPA: 7/ 9, XP%: 77.8% (4 games)
|Seasons||Team||Gould FGM/FGA||Gould FG %||Gould XPM/XPA||Gould XP %|
|2016||New York Giants*||10/10||100%||20/23||87%|
|2017||San Francisco 49ers||39/41||95.2%||28/30||93.3%|
|2018||San Francisco 49ers||21/22||95.4%||19/20||95%|
|Total Through 36 Games||70/73||95.9%||68/74||91.9%|
To be fair, Gould struggled toward the end of the 2015 season and into the 2016 preseason. Given his contract at the time, it was hard to rationalize paying a kicker on a rebuilding team. Missing chip-shot field goals and extra points also didn’t help his cause.
But while the move might have been justified, Pace’s failure to upgrade or find a similar option at kicker has been a noteworthy failure.
His solutions to replace Gould have been puzzling. Connor Barth, who was replaced by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ bust Roberto Aguayo, was never known for his accuracy outside 40 yards. After an up and down performance through 26 games, Pace was forced to part ways with Barth toward the end of the 2017 season.
This offseason, Pace hitched his wagon to Parkey last offseason by giving him an elite-level contract. The deal was pretty hefty for a kicker who’s been solid but never upper-echelon at the position.
While he enjoyed success with the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins last year, he’s never kicked in conditions like Soldier Field. Cleveland might be cold, but it doesn’t have the ever-changing winds that Lake Michigan brings throughout the course of a game.
Parkey’s game Sunday illustrated the Bears’ struggles at kicker perfectly. By doinking two extra points and two field goals off the uprights, he left eight points on the board. While Parkey can get away with doing that in a route against a bad Lions’ squad, it can’t happen against stiffer competition.
When they start facing teams like the Minnesota Vikings or Los Angeles Rams, the margin of error is much thinner. You can’t leave any points off the board against top-tier teams capable of scoring in bunches.
One thing is certain: Parkey is going to get another chance or two to correct what’s ailing him.
They’re not going to cut him after what transpired against the Lions. There are 9 million reasons why they can’t. That’s what happens when you overpay for a free-agent kicker instead of finding your version of Jake Elliott or Harrison Butker.
Head coach Matt Nagy denied that his kicker’s gig was in jeopardy during his postgame press conference. Nagy did tell the media Monday that it’s possible Parkey could practice kicking at Soldier Field during the week to get more acclimated to the field conditions.
During an interview Monday with The Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN 1000, former Bears kicker Kevin Butler stressed how important it was to practice from Soldier Field throughout the week. Gould also used to practice on the lakefront with special teams players and coaches (including then-assistant and current special teams coordinator Chris Tabor).
Hopefully, Parkey can take a page out of both Butler and Gould’s books and get some kicks in throughout the week on his home field. Because if he clunks kicks next week against the Vikings or in another crucial game down the stretch, the Bears might be forced to eat the money and kick Parkey to the curb.
If so, maybe the fifth time’s a charm for Pace.