Cairo Santos literally had to heal in order to get another chance to establish a secure position in the NFL. Now that he is getting that opportunity in Tampa, he wants to help his new team mend in a more figurative manner.
Just before his first practice as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new placekicker, Santos was given a quick synopsis of the team's troubled recent history at his position, and asked how he could change it.
"Consistency is really what describes me the best," said the former Kansas City Chiefs standout. "I'm just going to come in and be myself and help the team heal the wounds that have been created."
Santos replaces Chandler Catanzaro, the veteran kicker the Buccaneers brought in this offseason in an attempt to stop a kicking carousel that had been turning since Connor Barth tore an Achilles tendon in a charity basketball game just before training camp in 2013. Catanzaro had an NFL history similar to that of Santos, so it was surprising when his season didn't go as well as expected and the Bucs chose to make a change. In the most immediate sense, Santos - who feels for his predecessor and knows what it's like to be cut - could address this season's "wounds" by providing that long-sought kicking consistency the rest of the way. And if he continues on beyond 2018 as Tampa Bay's kicker, he could also restore a healthy constancy to the position for years to come. That's his goal, of course.
"[You] hate to see that," said Santos of Catanzaro's release. "You end up knowing a lot of these guys on a personal level and you train together. It's just part of this brutal business that it can happen to all of us. I've been cut before; I know the feeling. And being the guy to be called and step up, I've done that as well. So I'm just looking forward to the opportunity."
View photos from the Buccaneers' practice Wednesday at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Indeed, Santos also filled in for two games for the Los Angeles Rams earlier this season while Greg Zuerlein was injured and he made five of his six field goal tries during that time. He knew that opportunity was going to be limited by Zuerlein's recovery, though, so he continued to look for a more lasting chance to reestablish himself. He had visited with the Buccaneers during the 2017 season, while still recovering from the groin injury that ended his three-plus years with the Chiefs, and had decided that Tampa was his preferred destination for 2018. It took a while for that to happen, but it was sealed in a recent workout for the Buccaneers in which he kicked into a strong wind and made all of his tries, including two 50-yarders, except for a 59-yard attempt that came up short.
Santos actually signed with the Jets this past spring but was released during training camp. He subsequently took five visits to kicker-needy teams, including the one that got him his cameo in Los Angeles, and says he made 45 of his 47 field goal tries across those workouts. Santos has been fully recovered from his injury since the summer and this year's job-seeking process made him realize he still had a deep desire to play in the NFL.
"I try to find the positive in things because I believe there is God's plan," said Santos. "Obviously, it's frustrating to get injured. I loved Kansas City and my teammates and wanted to be there, but injury prevented me from playing and I ended up moving, don't stick with Chicago, don't stick with New York - and those are great places as well. You physically want to feel great. But I also knew that I was still kicking well and I could potentially end up in a better place, like staying in Florida. It was frustrating but also humbling. I found another passion to try to come back and keep playing.
Since 2013, the Buccaneers have used seven different placekickers, including Barth, who came back in 2015, and Patrick Murray who had the job in the non-consecutive 2014 and 2017 seasons. In that span, the Buccaneers have a field goal success rate of 75.1%, worst in the NFL. They've tried the draft, undrafted rookies and proven veterans. There have been ups and downs in that span, but nothing approaching consistency, the medicine that Santos says he can bring to the ailment. Part of that is attributable to a strong mental approach.
"I think we've been through all these moments of highs and lows that you just have to have a short memory," he said. "It's just having the mindset that, a make or a miss, the last kick doesn't matter. You just have to make the next one. I just flip that chapter, that page, really fast and start focusing on the next kick because it can happen in the matter of the next drive or the next game. You've just got to have your mind ready and you can't take anything for granted."
Santos won't take this latest opportunity for granted, either. He calls a belated chance to land in his top-priority spot a "blessing," and he's ready to get started this weekend at the Meadowlands against the New York Giants. It's an important game for him, because Santos knows the value of making a good first impression and getting into a groove quickly.
"I think there are a lot of good things in this program to help the kicker succeed," he said. "The biggest thing, too, is you've got to hope for a good start. The start is what gets you going positively, so you just have to be mentally strong to come in and get off to a good start."