Upgrade at punter might be a luxury too costly for Bears

Patrick O'Donnell isn't the NFL's best punter but with few draft picks and little cash, the Bears could do worse.

A cash-strapped team can't afford the luxury of committing to a big contract for a punter.

The Bears face a dilemma in this regard because Pat O'Donnell is an unrestricted free agent and made $1.5 million last year.

It's a problem because there aren't many legitimate, experienced free agent punters available this season. In fact, there are almost no real options, with five unrestricted regular punters. And the Bears could use any cash under the cap they can get.

But O'Donnell has been a solid, middle-of-the-pack type. He lost a bit in yardage from 47 yards to 45 this year, and his net was 39.7. But he is still adept at putting it inside the 20 and usually is in or around the top 10 at this.

They could get into a bidding war with the Patriots for punter Ryan Allen, or Steelers for free agent Jordan Berry, if they wanted to waste cash. Paying a punter a big salary is counterproductive.

San Francisco's Bradley Pinion might be the only bargain but he's in line for a big raise. He was paid only $618,500 last year and had a season comparable, although a bit worse, than O'Donnell. Donnie Jones is 39 years old, so scratch him off the list.

You're not finding Cameron Johnsons walking all over the place. In fact, probably the only way you'll keep from spending much on a punter is to sign a player not currently in the league or by drafting someone.

Utah's Mitch Wishnowsky had a 48.6-yard average and 45.2-yard net average to lead the nation last year. The Bears did spend a draft pick on O'Donnell in the past, although it wasn't Ryan Pace doing it. Maybe they'd be willing to do this, but when you're short on draft picks like the Bears, who wants to spend one on a punter? Looking for another college undrafted free agent might be an option.

Former Giants and Steelers punter Brad Wing is in the AAF punting for Memphis at $83,333 a year, if someone wants to risk this.

Wing never had more than nine touchbacks in a season, had 33 and 28 punts downed inside the 20 in 2015-16 and never had any punts blocked until 2017. Wing's career net average of 39.1 yards isn't anything to brag about and he had a stretch of short punts in the clutch that got him cut by the Giants.

Although he's Australian and the first Aussie to throw a touchdown pass in the NFL, he is not a rugby-style punter and he is left-footed. The spin is opposite on his punts, making it different for return men fielding it.

Bill Belichick swears by left-footed punters and a study done in 2017 showed 3.7 percent of left-footed punts were muffed while only 2.9 percent of right-footed punts were muffed.

Wing, though, is a controversial figure after off-field problems and rumors in college at LSU. In June of 2011, Wing was arrested for simple battery after a fight involving his ex-girlfriend in which he was alleged to have punched and kicked an 18-year-old male.

He turns up in the strangest places and situations, like in a Nicki Minaj video, and was Odell Beckham Jr.'s buddy with the Giants.

There are no Cameron Johnsons floating around the free agent punter market and the Bears may just be better off sticking with their own and paying what he's worth.

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Gene Chamberlain
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