None of the Bears’ cuts Saturday to get down to the 53-man roster were shocking, but the players they dropped revealed key aspects of their plan for the upcoming -season.
At kicker, a touchy subject for them for years, the Bears kept Eddy Pineiro on the active roster despite a groin injury that has prevented him from kicking in practice for most or all of the preseason. They put Cairo Santos on waivers with the intent of signing him to the practice squad Sunday.
Either could kick in the opener at the Lions. Teams are allowed to protect up to four practice-squad players per week, a provision to deal with potential coronavirus outbreaks, so the Bears could bring Santos aboard the day before the game.
While the mechanics of that plan are sound, the wisdom might not be.
Pineiro made 82.1% of his field-goal tries, tying for 17th in the NFL, and a lingering injury would throw even more uncertainty into the kicking game. And Santos, who hasn’t been a full-time kicker since 2016, was cut by the Titans after going 0-for-4 in a game last season.
The Bears could look beyond Halas Hall at the many veterans available, including Nick Folk. He made 14 of 17 field goals as a fill-in for the Patriots last season.
Their other moves — or absence of them, at some positions — show what they’re thinking heading into the opener. That’s especially true at running back and cornerback.
Not only did the Bears decline to sign Leonard Fournette or Adrian Peterson when they were available the final week of the preseason, they cut impressive undrafted rookie running back Artavis Pierce.
None of the undrafted rookies made the team, by the way. Those players typically have the most to gain in Organized Team Activities and minicamp, which were canceled this year.
Since they felt free to trim an already slim running back room, the Bears must believe that David Montgomery will be relatively fine after going down with a groin injury Aug. 26, or that if he misses a game or two, they’re content to cover his absence with Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson and Ryan Nall.
It was a slight surprise to see them waive third-year cornerback Kevin Toliver, who began training camp targeting a starting job and ended it with rookies bypassing him on the depth chart.
His exit is the clearest sign yet that the Bears are ready to proceed with second-rounder Jaylon Johnson as the starter and fifth-rounder Kindle Vildor as a second-stringer.
If they believe they still need reinforcement in the secondary, two players from last season are on the market: cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Amukamara signed with the Raiders and Clinton-Dix with the Cowboys, but both were cut recently.
Given how little interest the Bears showed in keeping either of them and how long they lasted as free agents, a reunion seems -unlikely.
Speaking of reunions, there should be plenty of them with players cut Saturday. The Bears jettisoned Tyler Bray, but it’s nearly certain they’ll bring him back as their third quarterback. (Thirty-one other quarterbacks were cut Saturday, including former first-round pick Josh Rosen.) It’s also hard to see them leaving Ledarius Mack out in the cold when his superstar older brother would obviously want him around.
Concerns about the pandemic prompted the NFL to tighten training camp rosters to 80 and expand the practice squad to 16. That means almost two-thirds of the players the Bears cut could return, and the league anticipated that scenario by allowing players to remain in team “bubbles” through Monday to smooth out the process of signing them to practice squads.