Common sense would suggest that the Bears’ re-signing of punter Pat O’Donnell to a two-year deal would take them out of the market of adding another player at his position via the draft or during the post-draft free agent free-for-all.
HOWEVER, long-time NFL analyst and Hall of Fame front office leader Gil Brandt’s latest hints that the team could still bring in competition at the position:
Linebacker coaches from Bengals, Eagles, Cowboys at @Utah_Football pro day to see Cody Barton, who stood on all his combine numbers but had an excellent workout.
Jets, Bears sent their ST coaches to see Mitch Wishnowsky, an impressive punter and former Aussie Rules Footballer
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 3, 2019
Brandt reports Chicago sent its special teams coaches (in this case, it would be Chris Tabor and Brock Olivo) to Utah’s Pro Day to check out punter Mitch Wishnowsky. We already knew the team had its eyes on Wishnowsky’s teammate Matt Gay, who is one of the draft’s top place-kicking prospects. So it makes sense that the Bears’ special teams coaches would also have their eyes on Wishnowsky, who is a highly regarded prospect in his own regard.
Indeed, Wishnowsky was one of three punters who earned an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and is the most decorated of the draft-eligible punting prospects.
The 2016 campaign got Wishnowsky’s American football career started on the right foot. Wishnowsky was a unanimous first-team All-American that season and also won the Ray Guy Award for being college football’s best punter as he averaged 47.7 yards per punt and led Division I in punts downed inside the 10-yard-line. It was also the first of three consecutive seasons in which he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. And to prove his 2016 season was no fluke, Wishnowsky picked up third-team All-American honors in 2017 and second-team recognition in 2018, proving his 2016 showing was no fluke.
That’s big-time production from a player with a big-time leg. And we already know leg strength is something Bears GM desires out of his kicker.
So while the Bears re-signed O’Donnell earlier this month, he could prove to be a place-holder for a long-term option with more upside. According to our friends at OverTheCap.com, O’Donnell’s contract is worth $3.5 million and includes $1.75 million guaranteed. If the Bears were to bring in another punter who beats out O’Donnell for the punting job, it would cost the team a hit of $1.75 million in dead money and $100,000 in cap space. Those aren’t huge hits in the grand scheme of things.
The Bears are positioning themselves to have open competition among the special teams units, where there isn’t a ton of money guaranteed to the group’s core members. Chicago has around $18.9 million in available cap space, which gives them ample room to take a high-upside gamble with some draft picks if some of their veterans don’t work out. After seeing the 2018 season unravel at the end because of a punt that didn’t get as much distance as anyone wanted and a field goal whose double-doink and thud still ring in our heads, let’s keep our eyes open to what could be coming down the pipeline for a special teams unit that is still in flux.