Cairo Santos

Bears kicker competition? Bears talk Cairo Santos, Andre Szmyt

The Bears brought in rookie kicker Andre Szmyt to compete with Cairo Santos during OTAs

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When the Bears signed kicker Andre Szmyt as an undrafted free agent this May, the first question wasn’t, “Who is this guy and how can he help the team?” like it is for most new players. The question was, “What does this mean for Cairo Santos?”

If Cairo Santos plays up to his standard, the answer is most likely, “Not much.”

“Cairo Santos finished like fifth in the NFL in kicking field goals,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “So I mean if you call that struggling, fifth in the NFL in field goals… I understand the extra point question and he fixed that towards the end. I mean a lot of people would kill to have a top-five kicker.”

Santos truly finished seventh in FG% at 91.3%, but the point remains, he was more than solid. In fact, Santos is the most accurate kicker in Bears history. He’s converted 89.7% of his chances, dating back to 2017. Robbie Gould is second with an 85.4% hit rate from 2005-2015.

But as Hightower alluded to, fans like to look at Santos’ numbers from 2022, point out the five missed extra points, and say the 31-year-old kicker is washed. Really, you can take two of those missed XPs and throw them away, because they came in Week 1 when rain was blowing sideways at Soldier Field and conditions were so sloppy that the paint on the field turned wavier than the roughest seas at Lake Michigan.

There was a stretch when Santos missed three XPs in five weeks. For a normally sure-footed kicker, it was alarming. But Santos diagnosed his problem as a “glitch” with his visuals. So he adjusted where he lined up, fixed the glitch and got back on track. Santos finished the season with three perfect weeks. Santos was confident at the time that the issue was behind him, and the Bears remain confident in him now.

Which brings us back to Szmyt. What is he doing here if Santos is still the guy?

“Competition’s always good,” said Hightower. “Having more than one leg in camp is always good. What I like about Andre the most is the fact that he’s a really really good player, a really good, quick ball-rise, strike, elevation. I like the fact that he’s got that one-track mind so he has the mental toughness and the fortitude to play that position. So it’s good. Working with him, just seeing him, and hopefully we can help him develop and be a player and help him contribute to the team, feed his family long-term. That’s what our job as coaches is, is to develop them while they’re here.”

It’s the classic case of iron sharpens iron. It’s the same reason punter Ryan Anderson is at Halas Hall. Do the Bears really want to move on from Trenton Gill? No. But if having a guy beside them on the sidelines can give a little energy boost for practices in May, they’ll do it.

Szmyt also provides a security blanket in case something does go wrong with Santos. Let’s say Santos comes back and has another “glitch” that affects his kicking, but this time it takes longer to correct. Or let’s say Santos gets injured. Having a player like Szmyt in training camp, or on the practice squad ensures the team won’t have to move forward with a new kicker who’s completely unfamiliar with the team and the coaches.

But if Santos is the same, reliable kicker as before, the job should be his.

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