After years of kicker turbulence, the Bears hope they’ve found stability in Cairo Santos. He went from the brink of being out of the NFL last summer to producing the best kicking season in franchise history, and the Bears locked him up Thursday to a three-year deal.
He can make up to $11 million during that span, a source said — a figure that would mark the biggest contract of Santos’ seven-year career. His deal is technically a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension, with the last two years able to be voided for salary-cap reasons.
His career looked nearly over when the Bears signed him as an emergency option because of Eddy Pineiro’s injury last summer, and now he’s their long-term answer. Santos made 93.8% of his field-goal attempts last season — his only misses were from 46 and 52 yards — to set a team record and finish seventh in the NFL.
The Bears took a chance on Santos after he played for five teams from 2017 to ’19, in large part because of coach Matt Nagy’s faith that Santos could recapture the accuracy he showed with the Chiefs before that. Nagy was an assistant in Kansas City when Santos made 84.3% of his field goals in 2014-16.
“When I was there for those years, I always had a lot of confidence in him,” Nagy said last season. “Never once did I ever [worry] about the kick being made or the kick being missed. The thing with Cairo is that he’s very confident and he doesn’t get [down]. If he misses a kick, ‘OK, I missed a kick. I’ll get the next one.’ And I appreciate that about him.”
Santos rewarded that trust by making 30 of 32 field-goal tries and 36 of 37 extra points (one was blocked) and delivering in high-pressure situations. He made a 38-yard field goal with 1:13 left to beat the Buccaneers and hit from 51 yards in the final seconds to force overtime against the Saints in November. He also made a season-long 55-yarder in a win over the Panthers.
He was the NFC special-teams player of the month in December after going 12-for-12 on field goals and making all but one of his 17 extra points. He closed the regular season by making 27 field goals in a row.
That was quite a surprise after the Bears believed they’d ride with Pineiro after a promising 2019 season. He was out with a groin injury during training camp and spent the season on injured reserve. Pineiro is a restricted free agent, and the Bears would unlikely be able to match any offer he gets.
Before Pineiro, the Bears struggled through unsuccessful stints by Santos, Connor Barth, Mike Nugent and Cody Parkey. They hoped they’d solved their kicker issues by signing Parkey to a four-year, $15 million contract in 2018, but he made just 76.7% of his field goals and had his potential game-winner against the Eagles in the playoffs deflected on the infamous double doink.
Santos, 29, said his inconsistency with the Bears and other teams during his journeyman period was the result of a groin injury, and his arrival with the Bears last year marked the first time he was back to full strength. His breakthrough season ended the Bears’ prolonged exasperation after cutting Robbie Gould following the 2015 season.
Santos bottomed out in 2019 with the Titans when he went 0-for-4 in a game they lost 14-7 and was cut the next day. But he was undeterred, and when the Bears gave him another shot, he cashed in.
“It’s been a goal of mine to have stability,” Santos said in December. “It’s been something I’ve been working towards. Every time I get to be with a team, the ultimate goal is to keep playing.”