When talking about Bears who need to perform well in contract years this season, discussion almost always turns to players like Jaylon Johnson, Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool. Sometimes you hear about Trevis Gipson. Almost never does Cairo Santos’ name come up, yet he’s been one of the steadiest players on the roster since he signed with the team in 2020.
With an 89.7% hit rate, Santos is the most accurate field goal kicker in franchise history. Robbie Gould trails Santos at 85.4%. On Saturday, Santos showed he’s still got it over the course of the Bears’ first preseason game. He hit all three of his field goals (28, 29, 49) and both of his extra-point attempts. It’s exactly the type of start that will help Santos enter the season with good vibes.
“We came out here last week for Family Fest and it was a good presentation for us, again,” Santos said. “The grass looked right for this time of year. Just getting more reps with the winds and stuff. Kicked well that day and it feels like I’m back at home, so I came in with a lot of confidence.”
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Most importantly, Santos put balls exactly where he wanted them on Saturday. The crazy winds at Soldier Field are well documented, so Santos knows that the line for his kick isn’t always right down the middle. He’s got to allow for the wind to blow the ball one way or another, so if he misses his line it can spell trouble.
That was something he struggled with on extra points last year. In all, Santos missed five point-after attempts. Two came in the monsoon-like conditions of Week 1, so we can throw those away. But three came in a five-game stretch between Weeks 10 and 15. It was a troubling development for a guy who is typically money on rote plays like that. At the time Santos chalked it up to a visual tic and made a few adjustments to fix the problem. He finished the season a perfect 3-3 on extra points over the last three games.
Santos added a couple of steps to his visualization checklist on extra points to make sure the problem doesn’t pop up again.
“I’m squaring my shoulders towards the target when I aim just to make sure there’s a right angle that I take. So it’s just making sure that’s really tight on every kick.”
If there was one knock on Santos’ game heading into the year, it was that he didn’t boast the same leg strength as other kickers in the league. He’s only made six 50+ yarders since 2020 with a long of 51 over the past two seasons. In warmups on Saturday, however, Santos drilled a 57-yard field goal and a 58-yard field goal. If they had counted, each would’ve been a career long.
“I have been working on longer kicks, just striking it clean. The one kick I missed last year was a 56 in Atlanta that I knuckle balled and hit the crossbar. I felt if I just had a good end-over-end rotation I think I would’ve had plenty of leg to that kick. So it’s just that, on the longer kicks not trying to strike it any different. Not trying to drive it or something, just trusting my leg strength and hit it clean, because that’s going to help the ball go more than me muscling it.”
Santos has noticed a positive difference in his new long-kick approach compared to years past outside of Saturday’s warmups.
“This week at practice we had high winds a couple of days. I hit a couple of mid-50s into that wind. The ball stayed on the right line and held true before the wind started touching it. So I think I have gotten stronger, but I think my ball striking has gotten better from deep range too.”
Reliable kickers are hard to find in the NFL, so if Santos stays accurate and adds a little distance to his game, there could be a case for him to be first in line for a new deal at season’s end.