Whether Connor Barth is the Bears’ next great kicker or just a footnote — and given his nomadic career, the latter looks more likely — he’ll be the answer to a trivia question: Why did the Bears cut Robbie Gould?
If it weren’t Barth, though, it might have been someone else. The morning after releasing the Bears’ all-time leading scorer — without trying to trade him first — GM Ryan Pace was respectful, if blunt: the Bears had a list of kickers on other teams they considered an upgrade over Gould if they became available.
Saturday, Barth was cut for the second time since May.
Sunday night, after a face-to-face meeting with Pace and coach John Fox at Halas Hall, Gould was gone.
“When a player comes available that we feel good about, we have to consider it,” Pace said. “And sometimes make the hard decisions.”
Such was Gould’s grasp on the position that Pace had never carried a second kicker in the preseason. The GM said depth at the position came in other team’s battles, not potential free agents the Bears could have signed off the street as competition.
The loser of the Saints’ battle, then, won the Bears job.
Barth flew in from his North Carolina home Monday morning, signed after the start of practice and was on the field by its end.
Entering his eighth year, Barth knows not to be surprised by much anymore. But he was.
“It’s very rare to see a guy play for one team for that long,” Barth said of Gould, with whom he is friendly. “He’s tremendous. I’m not trying to fill his shoes. I’m just trying to come in here and just be myself and help this team as much as I can whatever I can do.
“But he’s the man. He’s a guy that I looked up to. He’s a tremendous kicker. He’s the best kicker.”
But he wasn’t accurate enough.
Both Pace and Fox praised Barth’s mid-range skill — and in doing so offered a gentle chide of Gould’s.
“If you look at, especially under 40 yards, he’s extremely accurate,” Pace said.
Barth is 80-for-84 from less than 40 yards, and has only missed one of those kicks since the end of the 2009 season. Gould is 178-for-189 from that range, but six of those misses have come in the last four seasons. He missed two from less than 40 yards last year. That didn’t jibe with his $3.75 million average annual salary.
Still, Gould’s former teammates couldn’t hide their shock.
“He’s somebody that has been in this locker room for a long time,” said guard Kyle Long, who was going to mail Gould a few hats he left behind. “He’s the last guy from Lovie (Smith’s) Super Bowl team to be in this locker room. So there is some history that just left here.”
Gould called punter/holder Pat O’Donnell after he packed up Sunday night.
“He showed me a lot of different things; how to carry myself on and off the field, how to deal with different weather conditions here,” O’Donnell said. “He’s like a brother to me, so it’s really hard to see him leave.”
Barth’s quick turnaround will benefit from him having played for Fox and special teams coach Jeff Rodgers in 2014. He knows Patrick Scales from the long snapper’s offseason stint in Tampa Bay earlier that same year; Scales returned to the team Monday when it decided to cut Aaron Brewer, just two days after making the opposite decision.
Barth knows he’ll be judged by of his kicks, and — fairly or not — against the specter of Gould’s career.
“To be able to do what he’s done in these conditions for so long is just amazing,” Barth said. “Like I said, I’m just trying to come in and be me. And hopefully help this team win.”
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