The Chicago Bears’ 2021 season is one we don’t mind leaving in the rear-view mirror.
With that being said, we’re looking ahead to 2022 and beyond. The Ryan Poles Era is underway. And with a new-look front office and a fresh set of eyes at head coach, a clean slate is at everyone’s fingertips. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into the offseason for a franchise that should be excited about changes on the horizon under its new leadership.
Today: Special teams
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
(Ages in parenthesis)
PK Cairo Santos (30) through 2023, LS Beau Brinkley (32) through 2022, P Ryan Winslow (27) through 2022, KR Khalil Herbert (23) through 2024, PR Dazz Newsome (22) through 2022
Did you know that, since re-joining the Bears in 2020, Cairo Santos had made 90.3 percent of his field goals? Not even Robbie Gould had a two-year stretch that was this successful. No knock on Gould. But that is dang impressive from Santos.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
Pat O’Donnell (31), Patrick Scales (34), Jakeem Grant Sr. (29)
Two-thirds of the Bears’ kicking mechanism is on the brink of free agency. And while the Bears still have Santos under contract, the special teams unit looks to be under a re-construction of sorts. O’Donnell is the longest-tenured Bear, having been with the team since 2014. If he makes it onto this upcoming season’s roster, Matt Eberflus would be the fourth different head coach he has played for as a Bear. Of course, he needs to get to that bridge by way of re-signing before crossing it.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
Cutting Santos just when the Bears found a kicker would be cruel. But a Santos cut this offseason would create $1.175 million in cap space. Why the Bears would do that for such a small gain is beyond me. Hence, it isn’t a realistic place for my brain to go.
Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT FITS
(Age in parenthesis)
⇒ Thomas Morstead (36)
⇒ Andy Lee (40)
⇒ Dustin Colquitt (40)
Would the Bears bring in a veteran to compete with Winslow, the only punter on the roster?
Ryan Pace did it just once during his time as the Bears GM. Fittingly enough, with Winslow battling O’Donnell. I suppose we could see history repeating itself. Only time will tell.
PFF’s TOP DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PROSPECTS
⇒ Punter Matt Araiza, San Diego State
⇒ Punter Ryan Stonehouse, Colorado State
I don’t know how, but Illinois punter Blake Hayes didn’t make Pro Football Focus’ cut of best draft-eligible specialists. That must’ve been oversight with clips like this on his résumé:
I’ve got my first ever favorite punter prospect. pic.twitter.com/UfK1LnWqNa
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) November 6, 2021
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
Even if Jakeem Grant Sr. wants to return after reaching the Pro Bowl as a member of the Bears, it is tough to see the Bears pour too much money into a gadget player who specializes in the return game. This isn’t to say there isn’t a role for Grant on this team. As was the case with Cordarrelle Patterson last offseason, it is easy to make a case to retain Grant as a do-it-all, multi-purpose ballplayer. And when you have as many needs as the Bears do, signing someone who can return kicks, punts, play receiver, take hand-offs, and is willing to do whatever isn’t something we should take for granted.
However, with special teams always on the verge of getting a makeover due to the constant turnover at the position, a return doesn’t seem in the cards for Grant. And on the one hand, that is fine. Chicago could easily create some competition throughout the position group. Specialists are the least of our concerns right now. But that doesn’t mean this phase of the game should be ignored.