GM Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears are about to embark on a new sort of challenge: rounding out a championship-caliber roster that doesn’t have many glaring needs. But in doing so, they must navigate a tight salary cap situation.
So let’s take a look at some of the more promising available players, to see if there might be a fit with the reigning NFC North champs.
Previous offseason targets: Matt Bryant
Player, Age (in 2019), Position
Stephen Gostkowski, 35, kicker
Season stats: 16 games, 84.4 FG% (27/32), 98.0 PAT% (49/50)
Gostkowski was as accurate as ever on short-range kicks, making all 11 attempts between 20-29 yards and each of his 10 tries from 30-39 yards out. Things became dicey when Gostkowski extended his range beyond that, as all five of Gostkowski’s misses came from between 40-49 yards (4-for-6) and from 50+ (2-for-5). It all added up to a disappointing 84.4 percent success rate over the course of the 2018 season. That’s a surprising development for a free agent kicker who made 85.2% of kicks between 40-49 yards and 80% of his tries from 50+ between 2013 and 2017.
Career Stats: 200 games, 87.4 FG% (367/420), 98.9 PAT% (642/649)
Playoff Stats: 28 games, 88.6 FG% (39/44), 95.7 PAT% (88/92)
Even if you lump in a “down” year (by Gostkowski’s standards) into the mix, recent history suggests that he is still far-and-away the best kicker on the market. Since the start of the 2013 season, Gostkowski has connected on 90.4 percent of his field goals and 98 percent of his extra points. Gostkowski’s overall track record is strong, with three Pro Bowl nominations, two first-team All-Pro selection, and five seasons in which he was successful on at least 90 percent of field goals.
And if that wasn’t enough, Gostkowski’s playoff production kicks his status up a notch. Gostkowski is 16-for-16 on kicks in AFC Championship Game appearances and 7-for-8 on Super Bowl Sunday. Oh, the things I would do to have a reliable kicker in January and February.
In The End …
I suppose there are two hang-ups here that might give the Bears (and their fans) pause.
The first being that Bill Belichick doesn’t let valuable members of his team walk away without receiving compensation unless he knows something about that player everyone else doesn’t. And since Gostkowski has been with the Patriots since the 2006-07 season, no one knows him like Belichick does. Then again, the Patriots allowed Adam Vinatieri to walk away after the 2006 season and he has made 86.4 percent of his kicks in the 13 years since leaving New England. Oh, and he is going to kick again in 2019 in what will be his age 47 season.
There is also the concern regarding player acquisition cost. Sure, it’s just going to cost money … but the Bears’ cap situation is already a snug situation. Gostkowski made $4.3 million per year on his last contract and received $10.1 million guaranteed. Based on those numbers and his success over the years, Gostkowski probably isn’t taking a pay cut with this next deal.
It came as a bit of a surprise when the Patriots passed on using the Franchise tag on Gostkowski when they had done so previously. Unless the two sides come to a deal before March 11, Gostkowski will reach unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. And from a Bears perspective, the timing couldn’t be much better. Experienced and successful player at the team’s top need has fuel left in the tank and is available for just cash. Oh, but it’s never that easy, is it? The only thing left to learn is if the team wants to invest another few millions of dollars in its most glaring weakness for the second consecutive offseason.