Shaw Local’s 2023 Chicago Bears report card: Special teams

Bears K Cairo Santos signed 4-year extension with Bears in December

Chicago Bears kicker Cairo Santos celebrates with teammate Lucas Patrick after kicking a 30-yard field goal during the final minute against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Minneapolis. The Bears won 12-10.

The Bears have one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL in Cairo Santos. The 32-year-old Brazilian kicker picked up right where he left off in 2023.

He played well enough that the Bears were willing to offer a contract extension before the end of the season. Santos will remain with the Bears through the 2027 season.

Things are less certain at some other special teams spots. Here’s a look back at what went well and what didn’t for the Bears on special teams.


Chicago Bears place kicker Cairo Santos (right)  is congratulated after his field goal by his holder Chicago Bears punter Trenton Gill late in the fourth quarter of their game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Santos made 35 of his 38 field goal tries during the 2023 season. He made 92.1% of his attempts, which was the second-highest mark in team history (behind his own 93.8% record from 2020). He now holds the three highest single-season field goal percentages from a Bears kicker in team history, although he’s well behind former kicker Robbie Gould in total field goals. Santos missed only two extra points in 2023. He also kicked a touchback on 78.9% of his kickoffs.

Long snapper Patrick Scales had another good season for the Bears in his role. He’s the longest-tenured member of the team, having been on the Bears since 2015. Punter Trenton Gill has been solid as the holder for Santos’ field goals.

The Bears signed punt return man Trent Taylor in late August. Taylor was generally quite reliable as a punt returner. He didn’t take any to the house, but he avoided making mistakes. That was important to the Bears a year after they lost several key fumbles on punt returns.


Chicago Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. runs the ball down the field as Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Pat Jones II looks to make the tackle on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023 at Soldier Field.

The new kickoff rules resulted in fewer kick returns across the league. That was a bad thing for Bears return man Velus Jones Jr. With Jones not contributing much on offense, kick returns really are the sole reason why Jones still is around.

When given the opportunity to return kicks, Jones was really good last season. He averaged 27.2 yards per kick return. Unfortunately, he just didn’t see that many chances. Jones returned 16 kicks in 17 games.

Gill, the second-year punter, ranked near the bottom of the league in average yards per kick and in punts inside the 20. Only 26.9% of his punts landed inside the 20, which ranked 30th out of 33 qualified punters.

Defining moments

1. Game-winner: Santos nailed a game-winning field goal in a Week 12 win over the Vikings. Santos provided all 12 points for the Bears in a win, 12-10, against their division rival. Santos missed his first field goal try of the night, but rallied to make the next four. That included the game-winner from 30 yards.

2. Week 5: Santos also made four field goals in a Week 5 win over the Washington Commanders. That night in Washington, he went 4 for 4 and helped the Bears snap a 14-game losing streak that dated back more than a year.

3. Dec. 23: Just before Christmas, the Bears signed Santos to a four-year contract extension worth up to $16 million. The deal will keep him with the team through the 2027 season. Santos has been the most successful Bears kicker since Robbie Gould left, and the Bears rewarded him with a new deal. He had been in the final year of his current contract.

Contract status

Santos is under contract through 2027. Gill and Jones have two years remaining on their rookie contracts. Taylor and Scales are set to become free agents. The Bears signed left-footed punter Corliss Waitman and long snapper Cameron Lyons to futures contracts.

Shaw Local grade: B+

Santos was really good, and that’s the most important thing. Gill needs to show improvement as a punter.


The Bears are set with Santos. They will probably head into 2024 with Jones as their kick return man again, unless things become too crowded at receiver. As of right now, the Bears have only four players under contract at receiver, so that’s not a problem.

The Bears could try to re-sign Taylor as the punt returner. They liked how reliable he was, even if he wasn’t among the league lead in yards per return.

The Bears could look for a better punter, but they’ve also invested a lot of time and effort into Gill. With him being on a cheap rookie contract, they might prefer to give him more time to show improvement.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.