The Bears answered their relatively easy offseason kicking question, bringing back punter Pat O’Donnell on a two-year, $4 million deal, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday night.
The 28-year-old O’Donnell, selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by former general manager Phil Emery, tied career highs with a 39.7-yard net average and 28 punts inside the 20-yard line last season and holds the franchise record with a 44.9-yard gross average.
O’Donnell also matched a career high by pinning the Philadelphia Eagles inside the 20 four times on six tries in his postseason debut in January. However, O’Donnell’s final punt traveled only 36 yards, positioning Nick Foles and Co. at their own 40 in the final minutes to begin their game-winning drive.
One of four remaining Bears from the Emery regime, the strong-legged O’Donnell has made subtle improvements over his tenure, including three different coaching staffs and two general managers. Re-signing him at a time when the Bears are almost completely overhauling their special teams and have no long snapper or kicker with an NFL attempt under contract makes sense.
But because of their tight cap situation, O’Donnell’s return was never a sure thing. Some will even argue the Bears could have saved at the punter position and spent their roughly $15 million in cap space on a reserve outside linebacker or perhaps even a more established kicker to join the competition that includes unknown quantities Redford Jones and Chris Blewitt.
After all, that’s the decision that arguably looms largest for GM Ryan Pace this offseason. O’Donnell’s return ensures the Bears will have at least one formerly drafted kicker in 2019. The bigger question is what avenue Pace chooses to finally stabilize the other half of his kicking game.