Bears' kicking problem solved by Cairo Santos' unfinished chapter'

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Adam Hoge
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Santos’ ‘unfinished chapter’ solves Bears’ kicking problem originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bears still have problems, but kicker is no longer one of them.

Seemingly cursed at the position since prematurely releasing Robbie Gould in 2016, a trip to Carlsbad, Calif. in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic turned the Chicago Bears’ kicking woes around.

Last August, Cairo Santos was just hoping for a job. Tuesday, he was discussing his new 3-year, $9 million contract with the Bears.

“The biggest challenge was like the whole COVID and NFL wasn’t allowing workouts,” Santos said. “So you’re just like, when is that going to come? Or is it going to come this year? It was so unsure how the process was going to be for free agents. And I think it was scary just to see how everything was going to work out for the veterans.”

Extra scary for Santos because his last NFL game in 2019 featured a nightmare performance in which he missed four field goals. The Tennessee Titans released him the next day.

That’s where longtime NFL kicker John Carney entered the equation. After training camps start, he hosts a free agent preseason combine at his training facility in Carlsbad. It is designed specifically for veterans who are still unsigned and hoping for another opportunity. With the limited — and complicated — opportunities to work out for teams during the pandemic, Carney’s combine last summer was an important chance for Santos.He delivered.

“The Bears were one of the teams who were present. And I had a great day,” Santos said. “I was in a position where I just had to take advantage of my next opportunity or it would be over. So I think I’m proud of the way everything worked out and where I ended up.”

It ended with Santos setting a Bears franchise record with 27 consecutive field goals made during the 2020 season — a remarkable accomplishment considering many, including him, were wondering if his career would be over. Now, still only 29 years old, Santos has a long NFL career ahead of him, especially because the significant groin injury he battled appears to be behind him.

“There were parts of those years that I was still playing that I just didn’t feel like I was popping the ball the way I used to,” Santos said. “To me it was more clear now, the season I had last year, that I got back to myself, if not even stronger.”

That was proven last season with a career-long 55-yard field goal at Carolina, but Santos admits he had doubts about whether or not that strength would ever come back.

“The body was not responding how I wanted it to, because of so many scar tissues and all. So at times I wondered if I’d ever actually recover from these types of injuries, multiple injuries in the groin,” he said.

The second of those injuries came during Santos’ first stint with the Bears, when he got hurt during warmups before a December game against the 49ers in 2017. Ironically, that was the same day Robbie Gould single-handedly beat the Bears 15-14 with five field goals. Santos was limited to extra-point duties because of the pregame injury.

From there, Santos bounced around the league, playing for the Rams, Buccaneers and Titans. But he didn’t play a full season from 2017-19 and was left wondering if his leg would ever be the same.

And yet, the reunion with the Bears was meant to be.

Santos felt a sense of gratitude for how the organization helped him following the groin surgery he needed, even though they didn’t have plans to bring him back in 2018. He also had a familiarity with head coach Matt Nagy, who was in Kansas City during Santos’ first three successful NFL seasons. Santos quickly earned Nagy’s trust and kept it. Considering the lack of trust Nagy had in his kickers during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, that made bringing Santos back easy.

“I always talked about Chicago as an unfinished chapter back in 2017,” the kicker said.

Now Santos has his first significant NFL contract. And the Bears no longer have a kicking problem.

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