Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2021 (or maybe he will be?), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 18 Cairo Santos
NFL Experience: 7th season
Looking back: Cairo Santos wasn’t even supposed to be the Bears’ kicker in 2020. But after a training camp injury to Eddy Pineiro and a record-setting season, Santos signed a long-term extension that keeps him in Chicago for the next three years, and possibly the next five. Santos set the team record for consecutive made field goals with 27, besting Robbie Gould’s record of 26 from 2005-06. Santos’ streak is still alive heading into next season. He set a single-season team record making 93.8% of his field goal tries (30 of 32). Only four NFL kickers had a better percentage last season.
He came up big in clutch moments, too. He drilled a 38-yard game-winning field goal with 1:13 remaining against Tampa Bay in a Week 5 win, and a 51-yard kick to send a Week 8 game against New Orleans into overtime.
Looking forward: After handing Santos a significant payday, the Bears need this deal to work out. Everything seems to indicate that the Bears struck gold with their signing of Santos in August. But Santos knows as well as anyone that kicking in the NFL can be a finicky thing. If he remains healthy and productive, Santos is a valuable piece to the puzzle for the Bears. He was nearly an automatic three points every time he attempted a field goal last season.
While the Bears would prefer to find the end zone, a dynamite kicker can be the difference between winning and losing games. Nobody expects Santos to make 27 consecutive field goals again, but if he can remain near or around 90% on his field goal tries, it will have been a worthy investment. Having a solid kicker makes life so much easier for NFL teams.