Bears Offseason Outlook: Special Teams

By 670 The Score
Editor's note: This is the 10th in a series of positional breakdowns as the Bears enter the offseason. You can find them all here.
(670 The Score) A year ago at this time, a big issue for the Bears was who would be their kicker. That almost seems like a blissful state to operate in now.

The Bears have question marks at a handful of key positions after a disappointing 8-8 season, but they do move forward feeling confident in Eddy Pineiro as their kicker. The team doesn't intend to bring in competition this offseason, Bears general manager Ryan Pace said after the season.

"The goal the whole time was to hit on a young kicker that we can grow," Pace said. "We feel like we've done that with Eddy. 

"We feel like he's going to continue to get better."

The Bears entered this offseason with Pineiro set as the kicker and punter Pat O'Donnell under contract, but they also have a few special teams voids to fill.

Who's back: Eddy Pineiro, 24; Pat O'Donnell, 28; Cordarrelle Patterson, 28; Tarik Cohen, 24
Free agents: Patrick Scales, 32; Sherrick McManis, 32
How they got here

In 2020, the Bears will be charged $1.125 million in a dead cap hit for former kicker Cody Parkey, who was released last March. His struggles in 2018 -- including the infamous double-doink in a wild-card round loss -- was why it became imperative to find a long-term solution for the kicking problem.

The Bears held an exhaustive search for Parkey's replacement during the 2019 offseason, which included an eight-man kicking competition during rookie minicamp last spring and a number of stunts to create pressure. Pineiro was the last man standing.

Pineiro converted 23 of 28 field-goal attempts (82.1%) and 27 of 29 extra-point attempts (93.1%) in 2019. He endured a midseason slump that included an ugly 3-of-7 stretch on field-goal attempts, a time during which coach Matt Nagy didn't trust him from seemingly routine kicking positions. But Pineiro responded by converting 11 straight to end the season. 

"It ended on a positive note, obviously," Pineiro said after the season. "I felt like I could have done better, but there's always next year."

O'Donnell punted 80 times, the second-most attempts in his career, for a 44.8-yard average. He's under contract through 2020.

The Bears got everything they hoped for out of accomplished returner and special teams ace Cordarrelle Patterson, who averaged 29.5 yards per kick return while adding value as the gunner on the punt team. Patterson's season highlight was an electrifying 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Saints on Oct. 20.

Tarik Cohen averaged 9.2 yards per punt return in 2019 as part of an unfulfilling third NFL season.

Quote to note

“He’s grown immensely. You go all the way back to OTAs, looking at some of that tape, to where the product (was at the end of the season), just with regards to his routine, how he hits the ball, how he follows through, the trajectory -- there are a lot of things that he’s improved at. And the thing that I’m still excited about, because he is a young player, he can still grow, and I see that in him."

-- Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor on Pineiro

What's ahead

The Bears exited 2019 with their special teams in a solid place but also with plenty of room for improvement.

Veteran football writer Rick Gosselin had the Bears ranked 23rd in his annual special teams rankings, with that score bolstered by their strong kickoff return game. 

If Pineiro is the performer that he showed at the end of last season, the Bears should have the kicker position filled for years to come. O'Donnell's $1.75 million in salary wouldn't offer the Bears enough in cap savings to justify a release, meaning he'll be back as punter in 2020. 

The Bears have an opening at long snapper with Patrick Scales becoming a free agent. He has been the team's long snapper since 2015 and has performed consistently enough to remain in that spot.

There's also a decision to make on veteran Sherrick McManis, whose contract has expired. The Bears' longest-tenured player, McManis has been a key player on special teams for years.

The Bears understand the value McManis has brought to their special teams.

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