Bears Well Underway In Kicker Search

The Bears will release Cody Parkey and could draft his replacement.

Chris Emma
March 04, 2019 - 12:16 pm
LSU kicker Cole Tracy

Julie Bennett/USA Today Sports

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(670 The Score) General manager Ryan Pace and the Bears brass arrived for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week with a youthful, talented and deep roster that provides for a bright future after a worst-to-first turnaround in the NFC North in 2018.

"It’s refreshing to look at the depth chart and not be overwhelmed by needs everywhere," Pace said.

However, the Bears have one overwhelming need. It isn't a quarterback, a left tackle or an edge rusher. It's a kicker -- and the fact this position is still a need will haunt Pace for some time to come.

The Bears will release kicker Cody Parkey at the start of the league new year on March 13, ending his tenure in Chicago after one frustrating season of a four-year contract that he signed last offseason. A one-time Pro Bowl kicker, Parkey will be paid the remaining $3.5 million of guaranteed money and sent on his way after a disastrous 2018.

Parkey was 23-of-30 on free-goal attempts in the regular season and missed the potential go-ahead 43-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the Bears' 16-15 loss to the Eagles in the wild-card round. 

"At the end of the day, it’s performance-based," Pace said of the Parkey decision, answering one of 19 kicker-related questions that day.

The search for a new Bears kicker is well underway and continued at the NFL Combine. Pace had vowed that the team would be aggressive in finding the right fit, and that meant meeting with all three of the kickers in Indianapolis.

Should the Bears choose to select a kicker in the late rounds of the NFL Draft in April, they will be likely picking from either LSU's Cole Tracy, Utah's Matt Gay or Oklahoma's Austin Seibert.

The NFL Combine isn't the ideal setting to find or assess a kicker. Interviews are done in a group setting with other teams involved, and workouts are held inside Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bears are hoping to find a kicker who can thrive in all kinds of elements. But the threesome in Indianapolis offers some promise for the need in Chicago.

Tracy is considered the top kicker available in this draft. He kicked for three seasons at Division-II Assumption College before transferring to LSU last season. Tracy holds NCAA records for field goals with 97 and kicking points with 502. 

He learned a lot about handling pressure after transferring from Assumption College to the grand stage of the SEC.

"The biggest thing I learned was put your head down and go to work," Tracy said. "There weren't a lot of eyes on me at Assumption College. Probably not a whole lot of people knew that I even existed. But that didn't stop my work ethic or how I went about my business.

"Once I got comfortable and got into it, getting that first game out of the way, one thing I told myself in the months leading up to it is uprights are the exact same. They're going to be the exact same anywhere you got. Kicking is kicking. I got to focus on what I do."

Gay can relate to handling the pressure too. A former college soccer player, he walked on with the Utah football program in 2017 and won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker a year later. 

Gay hit 56 of 65 field-goal attempts during his two years kicking for the Utes, learning about the elements that can change in the Pac-12. A kicker can perform in the sunshine of Arizona State one game and the pouring rain of Washington the next.

Gay spent his weeks preparing himself for what the weather would hold come game day. He has learned to adjust with the conditions.

"Being able to stay mentally tough in that moment, to be able to handle multiple weather environments is what's going to help you," Gay said. "Stay with your process, stay with what works you and hit the ball straight.

"I approach every kick the same. I feel like I have what works for me. I know my process, I know my repetition. When I go through my process, I feel like I'm hitting the ball really well."

A native of downstate Belleville, Illinois, Seibert kicked for four years at Oklahoma, converting 63 of 79 field-goal attempts.

Drafting a kicker can be a complicated process, and the Bears have struggled in finding the right fit since releasing Robbie Gould prior to the start of the 2016 regular season. Kicking talent is only part of the equation. Handling the pressure is just as important -- and proved to be what broke Parkey in the end.

The Bears have already signed kicker Redford Jones to a reserve/futures contract, starting the competition in January. They could add a veteran like 44-year-old Matt Bryant, released last month by the Falcons. There are options in play.

Pace hopes the Bears will get their near-future fortified by the position they haven't gotten right.

"I promise," Pace said, "we’ll explore every avenue to better that."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​