Matt Bryant’s 10-year career with the Atlanta Falcons has been nothing short of a success. Bryant has made 88.7 percent of his kicks since joining the team in 2009 and put together five seasons in which he has made at least 90 percent of his tries, which includes a career-best 95.2 percent hit-rate in 2018.
But as Bears fans know all too well, all good things come to an end – even for the best kickers:
— matt bryant (@Matt_Bryant3) February 6, 2019
Shortly after Bryant shared the tweet embedded above, the Falcons announced they were declining Bryant’s team option for the 2019 season. Bryant leaves Atlanta as the franchise’s leading scorer and one of the most beloved players in team history. The move clears up nearly $3 million in cap space, but leaves the team without a kicker for the time being.
So … he should be on the Bears’ radar, right? Well, that’s a tough question to answer if you weigh all the factors at hand.
Bryant connected on 20 of 21 field goal tries (95.2%) and went 33-for-35 in extra-points (94.3%) last season, which is obviously swell. Indeed, Bryant’s lone miss in 2018 was from beyond 50 yards, but it’s not as if that’s an area of concern because he nailed 4 of 5 tries from 50+ yards last year (including a season-long 57-yarder). Since 2016, Bryant has been successful on 82 percent of his tries from 50 yards out and beyond. An accurate kicker with a history of success from long distance should put Bryant near the top of any list of free agent kickers. HOWEVER, there are two small things we would have to shake before jumping in head first.
We can’t ignore Bryant’s age, as he will turn 44 in May. An aging kicker is going to give most teams pause, but it’s not unheard of to have one who ages gracefully. Look no further than Adam Vinatieri, who will kick in 2019 at age 47. I suppose age is nothing but a number for a Pro Bowl kicker. And that Bryant still intends to kick despite being up there in age shows that the spirit is willing, which is a good sign as far as I’m concerned.
This is exactly what you want to hear from a kicker who is getting up there in age:
Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
— matt bryant (@Matt_Bryant3) February 6, 2019
The other potential red flag has to do with where Bryant has kicked in the past compared to where he would kick in the future.
Bryant has attempted 1,010 combined field goals and extra points throughout his lengthy NFL career, with 494 coming in a dome or at a retractable roof stadium. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 48.9 percent of his total kicks coming in a climate-controlled setting. Bryant has also been fortunate enough to kick 14 seasons in the NFC South while with the Falcons and Buccaneers, meaning divisional outdooor games were played in Tampa and Charlotte. More often than not, Bryant was kicking in ideal conditions. This isn’t to say Bryant’s success is a product of good fortune, but it’s something to keep in mind when analyzing his numbers (especially when you consider Chicago’s weather).
That brings us to the Bears and kicking at Soldier Field. If you’re looking for a silver lining or a reason the team should pursue the free agent kicker, here it is: Bryant is 8-for-8 on field goals and 9-for-9 in his PAT attempts kicking at Soldier Field. In those four games, Bryant has makes from 21, 25, 28, 35, 37, 45 and 48 (twice). Hey, that’s not all that bad! And while three of those four games were September showdowns, the fourth was a mid-December tilt where Bryant made all four of his extra points and a 45-yard kick. Oh, how I long for a kicker who can connect from long range in the winter months at Soldier Field.
Bryant probably isn’t a long-term solution for the Bears at kicker, but he could be a short-term fix for a team in search of an upgrade at the position, while they’re in the thick of a competitive window. According to the contract data at OverTheCap.com, the team option the Falcons declined for Bryant’s 2019 season included a base salary of $2.45 million guaranteed, a roster bonus of $1.05 million, and a cap number of $4.167 million. Had the Falcons not cut ties with Bryant, he would have been in line to earn $4.6 million in guarantees and $2.4 million in roster bonuses.
So if you’re looking for a ballpark of what a future contract for Bryant might look like, that extension he signed in Atlanta last March is probably worth remembering. (Michael: Given that existing contract, perfect conditions, and familiarity, I’d have to think he’d cost slightly less than that (i.e. it would be almost frictionless for the Falcons to keep him on-board, suggesting that’s an over-market price tag), but it’s too early to know for sure).
The Bears have a clear need to upgrade at the position and already have one newcomer in the race to take Cody Parkey’s gig. But more figure to be in the mix and there shouldn’t be any limiting factors (including age or a history of kicking indoors) in their search.