Jon Gruden continues to do his part in helping the Bears reach their full potential.
Less than one year after coming together on a trade that helped push the Bears into a competitive window, Gruden’s Raiders made another trade that could help further cement Chicago’s status as contenders. The Raiders trade of place-kicker Eddy Piñeiro to the Bears in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2021 wasn’t just the latest example of GM Ryan Pace taking another shot at a kicker with some upside. It was also a roll of the dice with a player that Gruden really liked last year.
“When you talk about Eddy Piñeiro, he hasn’t missed a field goal. We watched him kick today and he made every one. … We felt Eddy was so good we were going to draft him in the seventh round, that’s how much we thought of this kid, and we paid him a lot of money to make sure we were going to get him as an undrafted free agent.”
Gruden liking what he saw from Piñeiro at mini-camp last year served as a confirmation for why he was interested in drafting the University of Florida kicker late in the 2018 draft, and why the team ultimately shelled out the big bucks in order to land him as an undrafted free agent. It didn’t take long for Piñeiro to un-seat incumbent Giorgio Tavecchio as the team’s place-kicker, but an unfortunate groin injury landed him on injured reserve and kept him out for the season. Daniel Carlson eventually took over the gig and kicked well enough to make it his moving forward, which made Piñeiro something of a luxury in Raiderland.
And there’s one more interesting plot twist – one that should give Bears fans a glimmer of hope: Gruden might just have an eye for quality NFL kickers.
Sure, maybe it’s a coincidence. It’s quite possible that Gruden’s front offices have good scouts and a formula for finding kickers. But I don’t think it’s dumb luck that Gruden has always had a solid professional kicker wherever he has gone. After suffering through Greg Davis and Joe Nedney in his first two years in Oakland, Gruden’s team used a first-round pick on Sebastian Janikowski (who went on to have a long and successful NFL career). When Gruden moved on to Tampa Bay, he was lucky to inherit Martin Gramatica. But when it was time to move on, the Bucs scooped up Matt Bryant (yeah, that Matt Bryant!). Even in his return to the Bay Area, Gruden created a kicking competition, picked the better prospect, and when he landed on IR, pivoted to get Daniel Carlson – a rookie who went from being discarded quickly in Minnesota to making 94.1 percent of his kicks in Oakland. And yes, that includes 8-for-9 between 40-49 yards and all three of his attempts from 50+ yards.
At some point, something becomes less of a coincidence and more of a knack for knowing something others don’t. Maybe Gruden simply has a feel for kickers. If that’s the case and his feelings about Piñeiro turn out to be accurate, then the Bears will have turned up as winners of two trades with the Raiders. And at that point, I’ll be fully convinced Gruden is a double-agent sent to help the Bears break their Super Bowl drought.