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1985 Bears Coverage: Bears hedging on placekicker

Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Bears hedging on placekicker

Brian Hewitt

Originally published Aug. 30, 1985

No, the Bears still haven’t decided on a placekicker.

And no, they haven’t been able to make the expected deal that was supposed to send either Bob Thomas or rookie Kevin Butler to another NFL team in exchange for a healthy wide receiver.

Yes, that frustrates them.

When they drafted Butler on the fourth round last spring, the assumption was the loser of this summer’s kicking derby would produce a valuable player or draft choice in return. But it isn’t working out that way.

For starters the Bears haven’t been able to decide which of the two kickers to keep. Butler is longer. Thomas is more accurate. But Butler’s accuracy has improved, Thomas has gotten longer.

“I would feel comfortable keeping either one,” coach Mike Ditka said yesterday. “And I will feel very uncomfortable with whichever one I let go. I still haven’t decided, in my own mind, which one to keep.”

This week Bear general manager Jerry Vainisi told reporters he hoped to settle Ditka’s kicker dilemma by making a trade before Friday. But as of late yesterday, he hadn’t and didn’t expect to make a deal before Monday’s last mandatory roster cut.

“Right now there’s no interest,” said Vainisi. (Read “pressing interest.”)

Vainisi and Bears player personnel director Bill Tobin have been in touch with most of the other 27 NFL teams this week. “Either we call them or they call us,” said Vainisi. “And there are teams that have asked about both Butler and Thomas.”

“But it’s been a strange season,” said Tobin. “We got a bad break in that most teams are settled right now at the placekicking position. Nobody’s looking. Both Thomas and Butler will be kicking somewhere in the NFL this year. But it may not be right away.”

Part of the Bears’ problem is other teams know the Bears can only keep one kicker. “They other teams aren’t gonna trade when they know we’ve got to release one of our kickers,” said Ditka.

Instead, says Tobin, the rest of the league will wait until Monday’s roster deadline forces the Bears to cut Thomas or Butler. Then whatever team is interested can claim him on waivers. If the
Thomas-Butler loser clears 24-hour waivers, he then becomes a free agent.

Meanwhile, Thomas and Butler are existing on a mental diet of pins and needles. Butler has made all three of his preseason field goal attempts from 21, 35 and 18 yards respectively. Thomas is two for
three, converting from 41 and 24 and missing from 46.

Ditka said the two will alternate tomorrow night against Buffalo at Soldier Field in the Bears’ final preseason game. “Come Monday I’m gonna be pretty unpopular,” he said.

The Redskins recently solved a similar problem by trading former USFL kicker Tony Zendejas to the Oilers for a conditional 1987 draft choice (reportedly as high as a fourth- or fifth-rounder). Washington coach Joe Gibbs said he decided to keep veteran Mark Moseley because of Moseley’s demonstrated track record under pressure with the Redskins.

Thomas, who has made 11 straight regular season kicks, hopes Ditka looks at him in a similar light. “I expect Mike’s a man who will go with his gut reaction,” Thomas said.

But the Redskins had to “eat” the $150,000 bonus they paid Zendejas. And the Bears would have to similarly admit a mistake if they surrendered Butler for anything less than a fourth-round draft choice or a wide receiver who could provide immediate help.

The good news for the Bears is they aren’t as desperate at wide receiver as they were a week ago. Willie Gault caught his first pre-season pass at Dallas Monday night. And Ken Margerum, who missed
the entire 1984 season with a knee injury, led the Bears with three catches for 46 yards against the Cowboys.

Meanwhile, Dennis McKinnon returned to practice Wednesday and showed little effects from recent arthroscopic surgery. “He’s looked good and he’s looked quick,” said Ditka of McKinnon. “He’s ready. I have no questions with Dennis McKinnon. He’s ready.”