1st-and-10: Drafts encouraging, but Bears’ free-agent misses adding up
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As with many moves Ryan Pace has made in his three seasons as Bears general manager, the signing of kicker Connor Barth was notable because Pace was so sure of himself.
Cutting Robbie Gould to draft or sign the next Sebastian Janikowski or Justin Tucker is one thing. But Pace cut Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading kicker, in order to sign Barth, who had some Gould-quality seasons at his best but was coming off a worse season with the Buccaneers in 2015 than Gould had in a down year with the Bears. And Barth had just been cut by the Bucs and Saints.
Signing Barth elicited the same question that came up again later when Pace signed quarterback Mike Glennon in free agency and when he traded three draft picks to take Mitch Trubisky when he could have settled for Deshaun Watson: What does he know that the rest of us don’t? As was the case with Glennon, the answer, again, is nothing.
Barth missed a 46-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game with the Lions on Sunday but never had a chance (“Not even close. Holy Moses,” Fox play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman said). It’s a fitting metaphor for just how badly Pace missed with the Barth signing.
Barth was 11-for-16 (.688) on field goals this season, including 2-for-6 (.333) on kicks from 45 to 49 yards. The NFL average from that range is .720 (77-for-107, including three blocked kicks). No surprise the Bears released him Monday and signed former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.
Gould, meanwhile, has regained his touch since the Bears dumped him. He’s 19-for-21 (.905) on field goals with the 49ers this season, including 14-for-15 from 40 yards or more, 6-for-7 from 45 yards or more and 2-for-2 from 50 yards or more. He was 10-for-10 with the Giants last season, so in two years since he was cut, Gould is 29-for-31 (.935) on field goals.
Give Pace credit for acknow-ledging his mistakes. Santos is an upgrade if he’s healthy. He was 3-for-3 this season when the Chiefs surprisingly cut him in Week 4 with an injury designation because of a lingering groin issue and signed rookie Harrison Butker off the Panthers’ practice squad. After missing his first kick with the Chiefs — a 46-yarder — Butker has made 22 straight to tie a franchise record. It’s mostly a crapshoot. Pace could use a fortuitous roll of the dice.
2. Pace has enough promising draft picks — running back Jordan Howard, Trubisky, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, center Cody Whitehair and safety Eddie Jackson among them — to earn the benefit of the doubt that he can rebuild the Bears through the draft.
But his free-agent errors are adding up. Besides Glennon and Barth, wide receiver Markus Wheaton, cornerback Marcus Cooper, tight end Dion Sims and even linebacker Jerrell Freeman have been disappointments. It only reiterates the importance of building through the draft. If Pace gets the quarterback right, many of these “mistakes” will be footnotes instead of headlines. You only need to look to the north in Green Bay to see how much of a difference that makes.
3. Not only have the Bears lost two games they could have won against the Packers and Lions, but the Ravens made them look even worse by shutting down Brett Hundley when they shut out the Packers 23-0 at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Hundley, who had a career-best 110.8 passer rating against the Bears (18-for-25, 212 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions), was intercepted three times and sacked six times by the Ravens and plummeted to a 43.6 rating (21-for-36, 239 yards, no touchdowns).
4. As disappointing as the Bears have been this season, their three victories have come against teams currently headed for the playoffs — the Steelers (8-2), Ravens (5-5) and Panthers (7-3). In fact, the Bears lead the NFL in the not-very-important “strength of victory” category; the teams they have beaten have a combined record of 20-10 (.667). The Chiefs (32-28, .533) are the only other team with a strength-of-victory record over .500.
5. Bits and pieces: The Bears gained 389 yards against the Lions, their 10th highest total in the John Fox era. But they are 3-7 in those games. . . . Howard’s 50-yard run was his third gain of 50-plus yards this season, tied with the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt for most in the NFL. . . . Trubisky’s 53 rushing yards tied his season best — the most by a Bears quarterback since Kordell Stewart had 71 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in 2003. . . . Tarik Cohen has gotten past the 25-yard line twice in nine kickoff returns from the end zone.
6. With back-to-back losses to the Packers and Lions, the Bears have been in last place in the NFC North for 31 consecutive NFL calendar weeks — with sole possession of last place for the last 24 in a row. In fact, the last time the Bears were not in third or fourth place in the division was after Week 3 of the 2014 season under coach Marc Trestman, when they were tied for the lead at 2-1.
7. Speaking of Trestman, he predictably has found a comfort zone back in the CFL. His Toronto Argonauts (11-9) will play for the Grey Cup on Sunday in Ottawa after beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 25-21 in the CFL Division Finals last Sunday. The Argonauts were 5-13 last season. It will be Trestman’s fourth Grey Cup appearance. He lost in 2008 and won in 2009 and 2010 with the Montreal Alouettes.
8. Calvin Ridley Watch: The 6-1, 190-pound Alabama junior had three receptions for 103 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown — all in the first half of the Crimson Tide’s 56-0 rout of Mercer. Ridley has 52 receptions for 858 yards (16.5 average) and three touchdowns in 11 games this season.
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: The Bears might be catching former teammate Alshon Jeffery at the wrong time. Jeffery had four receptions for 67 yards and a 17-yard touchdown in the Eagles’ 37-9 rout of the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. In his last three games, Jeffery has 12 receptions for 213 yards (17.8 average) and four touchdowns.
10. Bear-ometer: 4-12 — at Eagles (L); vs. 49ers (L); at Bengals (L); at Lions (L); vs. Browns (W); at Vikings (L).
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.