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Will Bears’ looming decision on Cody Parkey be settled by emotions or by money?

January 8, 2019

The kick was tipped. Officially now, too.

Whether you like to admit it or not, Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field-goal attempt at the end of regulation in the Chicago Bears’ 16-15 wild-card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles had a finger affect its trajectory ever so slightly, causing it to double-doink and fall to the Soldier Field grass. That’s the unavoidable truth after several replay angles clearly showed the finger of Eagles DT Treyvon Hester snap backward after the ball passed through it.

Now, it’s certainly fair to question what effect it actually had. Did the tip cause it to miss? Would it have gone through had Hester’s hand not impeded its path? We’ll never know. Leave that to the physicists of the world.

Maybe years from now, the same smart folks who determined that the “Music City Miracle” lateral actually went backwards can apply their knowledge of coefficient kinetic friction with the ball and Hester’s hand, and whether that changed its velocity, it’s trajectory and all of that obscurity and complexity.

Argue that until you’re blue in the face if you choose. But there’s another matter that soon will be at hand: Do the Bears bring back Cody Parkey for 2019?

It’s easy to say after his playoff miss, which came following his four-banger game against the Lions, that there’s no way the Bears can do that. But there’s a harder, more nuanced version of this argument, too.

One has to do with the financial implications, which falls on GM Ryan Pace and the front office. The other is the family environment created and fostered by head coach Matt Nagy. Both should come into play with the decision.

Pace must decide if it’s financially responsible to cut Parkey, who was given a big contract by kicker standards last offseason. If he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut, Parkey would result in a dead-money hit to the Bears’ salary cap for $4,062,500, per Over The Cap.

That’s not chump change. The Bears have some key free agents they no doubt likely would want to keep, including S Adrian Amos and CB Bryce Callahan, and they’re currently projected to be about $19.6 million under at this point.

Cutting a few other unwieldy veteran contracts (such as that of TE Dion Sims) easily could free up more money, as could redoing a few players’ deals (such as Kyle Long?), but teams don’t like to spend right up to the cap. Flexibility is key, and Pace has shown an annual penchant for re-signing key, young players a year ahead of time during training camp.

Might Pace’s decision be made more difficult based on the evidence that Parkey’s kick was tipped? Our first gut reaction is no. That in and of itself feels like a stretch.

What the team must ask itself is whether Parkey can be fully trusted. On the regular season, he was 23-of-30 on field-goal attempts with a long of 50 yards, and he was 42-of-45 on extra-point tries. Among kickers with at least 25 FG attempts, Parkey’s make percentage of 76.7 was ranked 20th of 21 qualifiers. Among kickers with 30 or more XP tries, his make percentage of 93.3 was 20th of 24 qualifiers.

The Bears clearly thought they were paying for better than that. And this is a team that had 11 of its 17 games, playoffs included, come down to a one-score deficit, which shrinks the margin of error for shaking kicking even more. Until this becomes a Bears team that can produce more offensive scoring drives consistently, having a money kicker is vital to the equation.

But Nagy’s formula also involves something bigger than that. He’s created a family-like atmosphere, one that showed itself quite strongly in the post-game locker room. Bobby Massie immediately hugged Parkey after the miss on the field. Fellow OT Charles Leno delivered a clear message to fans after the game about how he and his teammates were supporting their kicker.

That type of message pervaded the Bears’ locker room. They win and lose as a team. Any reasonable observer knows that the Bears had ample opportunities to win the game prior to that.

You also can’t ignore how much Nagy went to bat for Parkey all season long and tried to get him in the right mental place. It worked as Parkey provided the Bears’ only points of Sunday’s game with three pressure kicks — including the one prior to the half where he also was iced by a late timeout from Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

The question now is how much that all matters. Nagy can talk family all he wants, but if his kicker has a permanent case of the yips — especially after an offseason where he’s sure to replay that game umpteen times in his head — he serves no more purpose to the Bears.

That’s the local perspective, and it’s going to lead to an interesting call there. Either way, the Bears will be adding a kicker this offseason. And if you take a step back and look at what’s happening around the league, there’s a trend to go away from the high-priced kicker that’s borne a little short-term success worth investigating.

The Dallas Cowboys cut pricey vet Dan Bailey in place of strong-legged rookie Brett Maher, and it turned out to be a good call. Although Maher missed six FG tries between 30 and 49 yards in the regular season, he was also 6-of-7 from 50-plus. Maher missed a 58-yarder in the playoff win Saturday against the Seahawks, but that was a low-percentage kick. Bailey, meanwhile, signed with the Vikings and was only 5-for-11 on kicks longer than 40 yards.

Other teams, such as the Chiefs, Chargers and Eagles leaned on young kickers, letting higher-priced veterans walk. Those moves so far have paid off as well, with the Chargers especially getting good returns from Michael Badgley after that position had been a total morass that had sunk the franchise time and time again.

Maybe the Bears’ call is easy. Just cut Parkey and move on. Maybe it’s just a business decision and that’s that. If so, the Bears still need a kicker — and do they go with a veteran franchise who costs more? Or a younger option who is an unknown in pressure spots?

The wild card in this whole deal: Franchise scoring leader Robbie Gould will be a free agent this offseason, and he unbelievably was at the game on Sunday with his family. There apparently were some hard feelings when the Bears released Gould before the 2016 season and Pace said the team upgraded with Connor Barth as his replacement. We know how that one worked out: He was even worse, percentage-wise over two seasons, than Parkey this season.

It’s easy to say the Bears need to bring back Gould. But does he want to come back? Would the team be willing to go that route? Gould has been brilliant the past two seasons with the 49ers, making 72 of his 75 FG tries, for a 96-percent success rate. But he also turns 37 next season and he also could demand a contract more like what Parkey earned this season. That could be a lot of 2019 cap dollars committed to the kicking spot, both with Gould and with Parkey’s dead-money figure.

It all makes this debate a fascinating, multi-layered one as the Bears embark on an interesting offseason.

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