Robbie Gould’s lofty place in Bears history might never be reached again. Even the most famous Bears kicker of all time, Kevin Butler of 1985 Bears fame, sees it that way.
When Gould was on the verge of breaking Butler’s all-time points record with the Bears last season, Butler showered him with compliments.
In doing so, Butler even mentioned Gould in the same breath as Bears legend Walter Payton.
“He’s representing one of the best franchises in professional sports and certainly in football,” Butler said in an interview with the Sun-Times in October 2015. “And when you can have your name at the top of any list that has Walter Payton on it, you’ve got something special.”
On Sunday night, “something special” came to an abrupt and unceremonious end when the Bears informed Gould that he would be released.
His release was met with shock by one former teammate. Gould did not return a voice message.
Gould posted on Twitter: “Thank you to the Bears organization, teammates, coaches, and fans. Once a Bear, always a Bear.”
A source said Gould will be replaced by veteran kicker Connor Barth, who officially will join the Bears on Monday.
Thank you to the Bears organization, teammates, coaches, and fans. Once a Bear, always a Bear. #beardown pic.twitter.com/t8Nd81F8U1— Robbie Gould (@RobbieGould09) September 5, 2016
Gould’s release came down to a matter of production and economics. His struggles in training camp carried into preseason games. It included two missed extra points in the Bears’ final exhibition in Cleveland.
Gould also missed six field goals last season, including a potential game-winner against the 49ers (36 yards) and a potential game-tying kick against the Redskins (50 yards).
From a financial standpoint, Gould was entering the third year of a four-year extension worth $15 million he signed under former general manager Phil Emery in 2014.
Gould was slated to have the highest salary-cap hit among kickers this season at $4.1 million. Releasing him saves the Bears $3 million.
The Bears didn’t need more salary-cap space, but they still signed All-Pro guard Josh Sitton to a three-year contract worth just over $21 million, including $10 million guaranteed, late Sunday.
Nothing, though, diminishes Gould’s place in Bears history. In the end, he got caught in a regime change at Halas Hall much like many others.
With Gould gone, quarterback Jay Cutler is now the longest-tenured Bears player. Gould was the last remaining player from the Bears’ 2006 team that reached the Super Bowl under former coach Lovie Smith.
Gould, who joined the Bears in 2005, broke Butler’s franchise record for points on Oct. 11, 2015, making 44- and 30-yard field goals in an 18-17 win against the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Gould leaves the Bears with records for career points (1,207), field goals made (276) and field goals of 50 yards or more (23). He was set to begin his 12th season as the ninth-most-accurate kicker in NFL history (85.4 percent, 276-for-323).
Butler always marveled at how well Gould kicked at Soldier Field.
“The bottom line is that his consistency in that environment really ranks among the top of the NFL,” Butler said in the interview.
Bears players trusted Gould. He had a unique swagger that connected him to his teammates. It was a surprise whenever he missed. His overall knowledge of special teams impressed his most recent coordinators, Joe DeCamillis and Jeff Rodgers.
Through it all, Gould became a fan favorite. He’ll find work, but his departure means the end of an era. In a farewell on Instagram, Gould used a popular saying from Gordon B. Hinckley, the deceased American religious leader.
“Those who move forward with a happy spirit will find that things will always work out,” Gould wrote.