Bears want kicker insurance amid COVID concerns, Eddy Pineiro’s injury

Matt Nagy says the best precaution they can take for the upcoming season is to keep two kickers on the roster, which is why they intend to sign Cairo Santos in the next day or two.

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Pineiro made 23 of 28 field goals in his NFL debut season.

For the Sun-Times

The Bears are bringing in another kicker, but coach Matt Nagy painted it as more of a precaution than a concern about Eddy Pineiro’s performance. Pineiro still appears to be his guy heading into the season. New addition Cairo Santos is an insurance policy.

Nagy, speaking hours after his team endured a scare from what it said were nine false-positive tests for the coronavirus Sunday, wants to prevent a scenario in which he’d have to scramble to find a kicker shortly leading up to a game.

“It goes back to that contingency plan that we have,” he said. “We need to have another kicker on this roster. Knowing kind of where the COVID testing is right now, we all feel it’s very important that you have somebody that can come in if something was to happen to Eddy.”

That pre-emptive concern was heightened not only by Sunday’s bizarre events but also by Pineiro’s groin injury. He has not kicked in practice since the Bears started a week ago.

Santos hasn’t been on an NFL roster this year, so he must go through extensive testing before he’s cleared to sign. With a day off Monday, it’s likely he’ll make his practice debut Tuesday.

It’s not really a Bears debut for Santos, of course, because he kicked in two games for them in 2017. He also had the best stretch of his career when he kicked for the Chiefs from 2014 through 2017 while Nagy was on staff.

Santos hit a career-high 88.6% of his field goals in 2016 but hasn’t been a full-time kicker since. He played for five teams the last three years and was cut by the Titans last season after going 0-for-4 in a 14-7 loss.

Pineiro, meanwhile, survived a position battle last August and made 81.2% of his field goals (tied for 17th). It was a wild ride that featured a 53-yard game-winner in Denver and a midseason slump, including a 41-yard miss at the end of a home loss to the Chargers.

It wasn’t fully clear, but Nagy seemed to indicate he wanted two kickers on the 53-man roster for the season rather than adding Santos merely for the next two weeks of camp.

That is extremely unusual in the NFL, but this is an extremely unusual season. Speaking of which, the interesting part of bringing in Santos in case Pineiro tests positive is that they would theoretically be together all the time in meetings and practice. The Bears might need to keep Santos isolated.

The Bears could also stash Santos on the newly expanded practice squad. They can keep up to 16 players there this season and are able to protect four per week from being signed by other teams.

When the Bears had concerns about Pineiro’s knee injury last September, they opted against adding an extra kicker during the week. Teams occasionally sign a kicker off the street a day or two before the game if they’re worried. Instead, they proceeded with Pineiro and took some stress off his knee by having punter Pat O’Donnell handle kickoffs.

Nagy oddly dodged a question about Pineiro the day before and said Sunday it was because he hadn’t had a chance to talk with him “in regard to his situation” first. He added that they had “a good conversation” and that he believed Pineiro would’ve been able to kick Sunday if the Bears had worked on field-goal drills.

That said, Pineiro’s absence likely reinforced the need for a Plan B. And Santos certainly will get a chance to compete, but the Bears’ thinking at this point seems to be that he’s a safeguard rather than a challenger.

“I’m excited to get him in here, and now we feel more confident in that situation,” Nagy said.

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