General manager Ryan Pace had just finished his annual pre-draft news conference Tuesday and was leaving the Halas Hall media room when word leaked of a decision that could shape how the Bears solve their biggest question mark.
Kicker Robbie Gould confirmed he has requested a trade from the 49ers, with a source saying he wants to play closer to Chicago, where his family has remained during his stints with the Giants and 49ers.
The Bears still haven’t fixed their kicker problem, and Gould — who spent 11 seasons with them and is their all-time leading scorer — is open about his affinity for Chicago. In February, he said the city “will always be home, no matter what.”
However, the cost for the Bears to acquire Gould — in terms of cash and draft capital — could be prohibitive. In February, the 49ers issued Gould a $5 million franchise tag that would have made him the NFL’s highest-paid kicker in 2019. Gould has yet to sign it, preferring to use the deal as a template for a long-term contract. The two sides have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal, per league rules, but they appear to be at an impasse.
With no deal in place, Gould, 36, skipped the 49ers’ voluntary offseason workouts, kicking in the Chicago area instead. He indicated that if the 49ers don’t trade him, he would not report to the team until the first week of the regular season.
However, 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday that “Robbie’s going to be part of us this coming year” and that the team “would like it to be longer than that.” He admitted, though, that the 49ers were interested in Stephen Gostkowski before he decided to re-sign with the Patriots earlier this month.
The timing of Gould’s request is telling, in terms of leverage. Doing so before the draft allows the 49ers to drum up interest from other teams such as the Bears, who will consider adding a kicker later this week. If a trade is consummated, the 49ers could then conceivably draft Gould’s replacement.
Gould could be the final piece for a Bears team with only a few holes left to fill, but that would require them to adjust course after they spent the offseason resisting the urge to throw money at their kicker problem. After cutting Cody Parkey — and knowing they’d owe him $3.5 million whether he played for them or not — they backfilled the position on the cheap. None of the three kickers they’ve signed — Redford Jones, Chris Blewitt and Elliott Fry — has even played in an NFL preseason game.
Trading for Gould also would require the Bears to part with one of their few draft picks. They have five this year, with none until the third round, one in the fourth, one in the fifth and two in the seventh. They could use one of the later picks on a kicker or pursue one as an undrafted free agent.
Just because they already have Jones, Blewitt and Fry “doesn’t mean we can’t add to that,” Pace said.
“Creating as many pressure situations here as we can,” he said. “And just let the dust settle where it may.”
The Bears also have been scouting college kickers with an eye on how they handle that pressure.
“It could be where they played, the conditions they played in, the pressure kicks they made, the pressure kicks they didn’t,” Pace said.
Pace, of course, cut Gould on the eve of the 2016 season after he struggled in the preseason. It stands as one of his largest missteps as general manager. Gould has since made 82 of 85 kicks in one season with the Giants and the last two with the 49ers.
The Bears’ special-teams staff has changed since Gould was released. Chris Tabor, who’s entering his second year as the Bears’ coordinator, first worked with Gould as a Bears assistant from 2008 to 2010.
As the Bears were preparing to face the 49ers last season, he had high praise for his former pupil.
“Robbie,” he said, “is obviously going to be considered one of the greats of all time.”