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Bears’ Eddy Pineiro wins kicker job for now, but still on ‘thin ice’

There’s no certainty he’ll be around for the regular-season opener in 2 1/2 weeks.

Eddy Pineiro beat out Elliott Fry, but the competition doesn’t end there.
[Brian O’Mahoney/For the Sun-Times]

The Bears finally chose a kicker.

For now.

Coach Matt Nagy declared a winner Sunday in the long-running competition between Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry by releasing Fry, but that hardly means Pineiro is his guy. There’s no guarantee he’ll last long enough to kick against the Packers in the regular-season opener Sept. 5, and the Bears will keep searching for an upgrade.

‘‘It doesn’t change anything,’’ Pineiro said shortly after the move. ‘‘Still gotta make kicks. If I don’t make kicks, I’m gonna be gone, like everybody else.’’

That’s life as a Bears kicker in the post-Double Doink world, and it’s going to be that way for a while. If the Bears will eat a $4.1 million dead-cap hit to get rid of Cody Parkey, they barely will blink to brush Pineiro aside if someone better becomes available by the end of the month.

The Bears think they have everything else in place to make a run at winning the Super Bowl, but they fear it all could come undone if they remain questionable at kicker. That feeling pervades the organization and fan base, and all dozen or so kickers who have come through Halas Hall since January have felt it.

Even if Pineiro makes it to the start of the season, general manager Ryan Pace surely will keep a short list of potential replacements handy.

‘‘I’ve just gotta make all my kicks,’’ Pineiro said. ‘‘With the whole kicking struggle from last year, they’ve got us on thin ice here.’’

That tension existed throughout training camp, and Pineiro navigated it better than Fry — narrowly. Nagy described it as a close race, and their performance in the first two preseason games was about the same.

In the preseason opener against the Panthers, Fry made a 43-yard field goal into the north end zone — the same distance and direction as Parkey’s miss at the end of the playoff loss to the Eagles — and Pineiro missed from 48 yards. On Friday against the Giants, Pineiro made a 41-yard field goal and Fry was wide left on a 48-yard try.

Pineiro also had the best practice of camp with a 12-for-12 night that included a 60-yarder two weeks ago at Soldier Field.

While neither was demonstrably better than the other, Nagy saw enough to decide on Pineiro. Making the call now allows Pineiro to get all the reps and game kicks in the next two weeks rather than splitting them with Fry.

‘‘They’ve both had their chances, and you kind of go back and forth,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘There wasn’t just one . . . that just blew it out of the water. It was a tough decision.’’

Pineiro earned an extended audition, but that’s all it is. It would be going too far to say the job is now his to win.

Nagy wants the players to treat Pineiro as though he will be the Bears’ kicker going into the season, but he repeatedly stopped short of portraying that as a certainty.

‘‘You’re getting toward the end of the training camps where there’s going to be transactions for a lot of different teams at a lot of different positions,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘So if we feel like something is best for the Bears, that’s what we’ll do.’’

The rough sketch of the Pineiro-Fry battle was that Fry had better mechanics, but Pineiro had more leg strength (there’s a YouTube video of him making an 81-yarder in practice at Florida). Mechanics are the easier of the two to correct, and Pineiro has been fine-tuning his technique and footwork.

Pineiro, 23, would be the youngest and least experienced Bears kicker since Robbie Gould made his debut in 2005. He was in line to win the job with the Raiders as an undrafted rookie last year, but he suffered a groin injury in the preseason and went on injured reserve. The Bears traded a conditional 2021 draft pick for him in May after a disastrous mass tryout involving eight kickers.

Pineiro made 88.4 percent of his field goals in college to set a school record and has gone 4-for-5 in preseason games with the Bears and Raiders, but the Bears would be entrusting the job to someone who never has kicked in an NFL game that counts.

‘‘It could go really good; it could go really bad,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘We don’t know that answer. But for right now, we feel good with where he’s at. We want him to keep kicking like he’s been. But we’re always going to keep that thing open.’’