The Chicago Bears’ 2020 season was essentially four seasons wrapped into one. Early season highs, mid-season lows, a Mitchell Trubisky tour, and a humbling ending put things into perspective.
Looking ahead, the 2021 offseason could very well dictate the long-term future of the franchise. GM Ryan Pace enters the final year of his contract. He needs to prove he can find a quarterback and unearth offensive skill players. And Head Coach Matt Nagy has two seasons remaining on his deal. But he might not make it to next year if he can’t show that his offense can work. But before we cross those bridges, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into a pivotal offseason for the Bears franchise.
Today: Special teams
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
The Bears are bringing back Cairo Santos after signing him to an extension. At its core, it’s a 3-year pact worth $9 million. There’s some creative bookkeeping done by this front office that essentially rewards Santos for his stellar 2020, pays him respectably for the next few years, and doesn’t handcuff the team’s other plans. All things considered, things could be worse. I mean, the Bears could be running out 18 kickers for a competition at Halas Hall.
Chicago is also bringing back punter Pat O’Donnell. After beating Tress Way in a camp competition back in 2014, O’Donnell hasn’t looked back. And his 45.7 yards per punt average was a career best. Gotta work on that 39.5 yard net average, which was his lowest since 2017 (39.7). But hey, he’s got a perfect 158.3 passer rating to go along with a 100% TD%.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
A bunch of the Bears’ top special teams contributors are free-agents-to be, Barkevious Mingo led the Bears with 374 special teams snaps. Joining him on the cusp of free agency are DeAndre Houston-Carson, Sherrick McManis, Deon Bush, Demetrius Harris, and Brent Urban. Each of those players appeared on at least 150 special teams snaps last season.
But at the top of the special teams hierarchy among pending free agents are Cordarrelle Patterson and Patrick Scales.
Let’s not overlook Scales’ contributions. Good, steady long-snappers are hard to find. And save for the one year he missed because of an injury, Scales has been as reliable as they get at the position. Bears fans were spoiled by Patrick Mannelly’s excellence, so they should know better than to take scales for granted.
As for Patterson, even the most casual Bears fan knows his importance. Two years with the Bears, two All-Pro nominations. Patterson has picked up Pro Bowl accolades each of the last two years, too. Once as a gunner, and last year as a returner. On top of all that, Patterson serves as a running back, wide receiver, lead recruiter, and GM-in-waiting.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
Nothing to see here. Move along.
Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com
THIS IS WHAT GREATNESS LOOKS LIKE
Cordarrelle Patterson with the HIT of the season!
This should not get flagged, it's a great hit, leading with the shoulder.
OBLITERATED the return man.
Great work as a gunner pic.twitter.com/BS7sCXtEEU
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) December 15, 2019
Cordarrelle Patterson reached 20.29 MPH on this 102-yard kick return TD to give the Bears their first points of the day (Saints lead 9-7).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 20, 2019
Cordarrelle Patterson ✌️
— ESPN (@espn) November 17, 2020
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
I’ve been accused of being an over thinker a time or two over the years. But I definitely don’t want to do that here.
Find a way to bring back Patterson. Yes, I realize rule changes have de-emphasized special teams. But so long as the Bears’ defense is a strength, they’ll need to supplement that with excellent special teams. And that’s where Patterson makes a great impact — and in multiple facets. It’s not like Patterson is just a kick returner. He is an ace in the coverage game, too. And he chips in as a receiver and running back from time-to-time. There aren’t too many players built like him with that type of versatility. So why let him go?
Oh … and bring back Scales, too. If the Bears lose a game because of a botched snap by a long-snapper, you might never hear the end of it from me.