Part 1 of an 11-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
Cody Parkey was a $9 million mistake who double-doinked the Bears out of the first round of the NFC playoffs. He hit the uprights six times in his only season with the team. His appearance on the ‘‘Today’’ show, saccharine as it was, took a flame-thrower to any chance of returning.
He was run out of town. Justifiably so.
Still, the Bears’ kicker problems started long before they gave Parkey a four-year, $15 million deal 13 months ago. They date to Connor Barth — and to Mike Nugent and Cairo Santos, too.
The Bears cut Robbie Gould on the eve of the 2016 season. Since then:
- The NFL’s 31 other teams have made 84.6 percent of their kicks. The Bears have made 76 percent.
- Only one team, the Buccaneers, have had a worse field-goal percentage.
- Only the Browns and Dolphins have made fewer field goals than the Bears’ 57. The Bears’ total is eight fewer than the next-lowest team.
Fixing the Bears’ field-goal woes, then, is about more than excising one player from the team and believing they’ve exorcised their demons.
General manager Ryan Pace vowed to ‘‘explore every avenue’’ to find Parkey’s replacement. He said he’d employ ‘‘a whole team of scouts,’’ including former Southern University kicker Breck Ackley, to find players worthy of a kicker competition.
Give him this: The Bears have dug deep. In late January, they signed former Tulsa kicker Redford Jones. In early March, they added Pitt alum Chris Blewitt. The two have no NFL experience, short of Blewitt’s brief stay in Steelers camp in 2017. Neither has tried a kick in an NFL preseason, much less when it counts.
The Bears still are looking. On Wednesday, they’ll bring in former Alliance of American Football kickers Nick Rose and Younghoe Koo for a tryout at Halas Hall, sources confirmed. Rose went 11-for-14 in 2017, when he kicked for the Chargers and Redskins. Koo, a native of South Korea, made only half of his six field-goal tries in a four-game stint with the Chargers in 2017.
Adding either player won’t prevent the Bears from drafting a kicker in the sixth or seventh round. With only five picks, though, they might prefer to save their draft assets and sign an undrafted free agent instead.
The Bears still have to pay part of Parkey’s contract, so money will be tight. Still, they could land a low-level veteran before the start of training camp and certainly near the end of it, when other teams start cutting their own kickers.
‘‘The key word is ‘competition’ at that spot,’’ Pace said last month. ‘‘And doing creative things to make them feel that pressure and that competition.’’
Grading the Bears’ need: High. The Bears absolutely must fix their kicker problem after Cody Parkey missed eight field goals and three extra points in his only season with them. The Bears cut Parkey but brought back the other two members of their field-goal operation, re-signing punter Pat O’Donnell and long snapper Patrick Scales this offseason.
On the roster: K Chris Blewitt, K Redford Jones; P Pat O’Donnell, LS Patrick Scales.
The five best draftees: LSU’s Cole Tracy, Utah’s Matt Gay, Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert, San Diego State’s John Baron II and Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon.
Keep an eye on: If the Bears are making leg strength a priority, as general manager Ryan Pace claims, Gay has the edge over the uber-productive Tracy. Gay made field goals of 56 yards, 55 yards (twice) and 53 yards (twice) in his two years as Utah’s kicker, albeit at the altitude of the Wasatch Mountains. He made 72 percent of his field goals from 50 yards or more, and 71 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. The Bears watched him kick at Utah’s pro day last month.
Close to home: Seibert, who made 63 of 79 field goals as a four-year starter for the Sooners, went to Belleville West High School downstate. He said that helped prepare him for the weather that has flummoxed others at Soldier Field.
‘‘When you kick in this bad weather that Chicago gets — the snow, the rain, the wind off the lake — that only makes me better as a kicker,’’ he said at the NFL Scouting Combine.