The Chicago Bears are saying goodbye to the only player remaining from the Super Bowl XLI roster. On Sunday night, the Bears released kicker Robbie Gould after 11 seasons in Chicago. That means quarterback Jay Cutler is the longest-tenured player on the roster by a full three years.
“Honestly, this time of year there’s mixed emotions. These decisions are difficult," GM Ryan Pace said today. "There’s a lot of good people we’re dealing with and there’s a human side to it. These decisions are never easy. As a young general manager, that’s tough. You’re talking to these guys, I understand the personal side of it and I take that very seriously. There’s numerous guys that we had those discussions with, and one was Robbie Gould.
“Every decision we make is about improving our team. These are all carefully discussed and these decisions never happen just on a whim. But when a player comes available that we feel good about, we have to consider it and sometimes make the hard decisions.
“But what I want to emphasize is the respect we have for Robbie Gould and what he’s done for this franchise. But I also want to challenge ourselves, our organization, our scouts and our coaches to always be looking to improve."
Gould exits Chicago as the most accurate kicker in franchise history, converting on 85.4 percent of his attempts. In 2015, he passed Kevin Butler as the franchise leader in points scored all-time.
The move comes just a day after the Bears trimmed the roster down to 53.
"John [Fox] and I met with [Gould] face to face late last night," Pace said. "I just think those conversations are very personal and I think it’s important to do it face to face, I think it’s important to do it with both of us."
Cutting Gould will save the Bears $3 million in 2016 because he was cut after the June 1 deadline. He was set to enter the 2016 season as the fifth-highest paid kicker, which included a $500,000 roster bonus.
The 34-year-old had a rough 2015 season, missing six kicks, including a game-tying attempt late in the season against San Francisco. It was the first time since his first year with the Bears that Gould missed six kicks in a season.
After going 5-for-6 in the preseason, including two missed extra points, the Bears decided it was time to move on.
The Bears made the adjacent move to sign Connor Barth as Gould’s replacement. The 30-year-old Barth has played seven seasons in the NFL, spending time with the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos. He was among the final roster cuts for the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.
"He's extremely accurate. We had him in Denver, brought him in in a similar situation," head coach John Fox said. "The key is, we call it points team, when you get those opportunities, you've got to get those points."
Barth has been really good on field goal attempts inside 40 yards in his career. He’s converted on 63-of-64 attempts inside 40 yards since 2010. The only miss came on a blocked kick in 2012. In 2015, he converted all 17 of his attempts inside 40.
"There's background with this player you know. The Denver coaches that are on our staff now had him in Denver for one season," said Pace. "We've evaluated him for years and he's a guy that's overcome an injury. He's an experienced kicker, he's kicked in big games. If you look at his, especially under 40 yards, he's extremely accurate and there's a sureness in that that I expect."
But on attempts of 40-plus yards, Barth was just 6-for-11 in 2015. His longest conversion came on a 53-yard attempt. To compare, Gould was 14-of-18 on kicks from 40-plus yards and his season long was 55 yards.
Arguably the biggest worry with Gould in 2015 was his inability to get touchbacks on kickoffs. Gould had a total of 83 kickoffs in 2015, with just 39 going for touchbacks. His 47 percent touchback rate ranked 27th of 32 NFL teams.
Barth was just a little better. In 12 games with the Buccaneers, Barth had 64 kickoffs with 32 touchbacks. The Buccaneers finished 17th in the league with a touchback rate of 53.66 percent, including Barth’s 50 percent rate.
To put into comparison, Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee led the NFL with an 87 percent touchback rate.
Since the NFL moved kickoffs to the 35-yard-line in 2012, Barth has 72 kickoffs. The other eight came in the 2014 season with the Broncos in which every kickoff he recorded was returned. In total since 2012, Barth has had 46 percent of kickoffs result in touchbacks.
Gould has 291 kickoffs since 2012, with 136 of those being touchbacks resulting in 53 percent during those four seasons.
Barth does have some familiarity with head coach John Fox. He kicked in five games for the Broncos in 2014, converting 15-of-16 attempts for Fox. Barth has spent most of his career with the Buccaneers, playing in warmer weather down in Florida.
As for playing in cold weather? Barth has attempted 22 field goals in cold weather cities in the months of November and December. He converted on 20 of those 22 attempts.
In his seven-year NFL career, he’s never attempted a regular-season field goal at Soldier Field. He has yet to deal with the swirling winds coming off Lake Michigan late in the season. That may be something to keep an eye on later in the year.
His first attempt could come Week 2 when the Bears host the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.
The kicker position is one in which a replacement can be found in a day but did the Bears make the right move? We'll soon find out.