Just days before the 2016 season opener, the Chicago Bears made the decision to cut veteran kicker Robbie Gould.
Gould had struggled the previous two seasons in Chicago and the Bears saved some cap space by waiving him but the move came at an odd time, instead of during training camp, when there was absolutely no competition.
The Bears eventually signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth to replace Gould but it was a struggle early in the campaign.
Barth missed his first field goal attempt for the Bears in the Week 2 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and then missed two of his next seven attempts before settling down.
For the season, Barth converted 18-of-23 attempts for just 78.3 percent, which ranked 26th in the NFL last season, an alarming stat.
Going into the 2017 season, Barth will be a free agent and the Bears will be looking for a new kicker. It’s unlikely they'll draft one in April, so expect GM Ryan Pace to look to free agency to upgrade the position.
This year’s free agent class isn’t the greatest but there are a number of kickers the Bears can target to improve one of the more important positions on any NFL team.
Steven Hauschka, Seahawks (Age: 32)
The Seattle Seahawks have moved on from Hauschka, as they signed Blair Walsh in February. Now the veteran kicker is set to test the free agent market and could be a good fit for the Bears. The biggest knock on Hauschka has been his struggles with extra points, as he missed six in 2016. That said, he converted on 89.2 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 9-of-11 from 40-plus, so he's a significant step up from Barth.
Greg Zuerlein, Rams (29)
Zuerlein has one of the best legs in the NFL for distance but he struggles with accuracy. Nicknamed “Mega Leg”, Zuerlein has had a rough stretch for the Los Angeles Rams the past two seasons. In 2015, Zuerlein missed 6-of-9 attempts from 50-plus yards and converted just 66 percent of field goals. He rebounded in 2016, missing just three attempts but two of those were from 50-plus yards. Zuerlein could be a cheaper option for the Bears and is worth the look as a potential rebound candidate.
Cairo Santos, Chiefs (25)
Santos has become one of the better kickers in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs over the last few seasons. The 25-year-old made 31-of-35 attempts in 2016, helping the Chiefs win the AFC West. Unfortunately for the Bears, Santos is a restricted free agent and is likely to re-sign with the Chiefs.
Chandler Catanzaro, Cardinals (26)
Set to turn 26 before the 2017 season starts, Catanzaro could hit the open market after struggling with the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. Catanzaro missed four extra points and only converted on 75 percent of his field goal attempts. It got rough at times for the kicker in Arizona but he may just need a change of scenery. He’s a dome kicker, which could make Chicago hesitant to bring him in.
Brandon McManus, Broncos (32)
McManus is a restricted free agent but will surely be a target for the Bears if he hits the open market. He converted 85.3 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2016 and went 19-for-19 in attempts under 40 yards. McManus was really good on extra points, converting 32-of-33. There’s a slim chance McManus hits the market but if he does, he could step in right away for the Bears.
Cody Parkey, Browns (25)
Parkey was brought in by the Browns after Patrick Murray was injured. After a disappointing 2015 season with the Eagles, Parkey rebounded and converted 80 percent of his attempts in 2016, including a long from 51 yards.
Connor Barth, Bears (31)
While Barth struggled to begin the year with the Bears, he eventually found his groove, converting 13 of his final 15 field goal attempts. He also went 32-for-33 on PATs for they year. The Bears may bring back Barth and give him another chance to start on a short-term deal.
Travis Coons (25)
The former Cleveland Browns kicker was cut during the 2016 preseason but is one of the youngest kickers available in free agency. The worrisome part is that he was beat out by Patrick Murray and then didn’t return when Murray was hurt. Coons connected on 87 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2015. He won't be the first option for the Bears but one to whom they could turn if desperate.
The Pick: Connor Barth or Greg Zuerlein
No-brainers like Santos and McManus are restricted free agents, so it would be tough to land them in free agency.
As a result, the Bears are more likely to retain Barth than to take a chance on another older veteran. Barth has familiarity in Chicago and has a year under his belt kicking in Soldier Field, which definitely helps.
If not Barth, then Pace should turn to Zuerlein.
Zuerlein still has power and is relatively young, something that should attract the Bears right away. For Zuerlein to get over his recent struggles, a change of scenery may be the best thing for him.
Chicago could provide that.null