On Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs made the decision to place kicker Cairo Santos on injured reserve, retroactive to the groin injury that he aggravated in Sunday’s game. On Saturday, in a surprise move, the team decided to cut Santos.
Through three weeks this season, Santos was perfect on his three field goals, and perfect on his twelve extra point attempts. Looking at last season, Santos gave the Chiefs a sixth overall ranking in field goal percent, and a 19th overall ranking in extra point percent.
If the Chiefs were to cut Santos based off of his performance alone, it is reasonable to assume that they would have done that last offseason instead of going into this season with him as their starting kicker. In addition, Santos initially injured his groin during the first game of the preseason, and did not participate in the team’s remaining three preseason games. If ever there were a time to cut him, following his preseason injury would have been the time.
However, given how the team treated Santos this preseason, and in the early part of the regular season, it does not appear that they are ready to move on from him. So then the natural question is why did they cut him?
The short answer as to why the team cut Santos, is because they are unsure of the recovery time frame for his injury. By placing him on injured reserve, they give him a six week minimum window to recover from the injury.
NFL teams are given two injured reserve–designated to return players, meaning that these players can be activated after spending a minimum of six weeks on injured reserve. According to the Kansas City Star, the team plans to use cornerback Steven Nelson as one of their players designated to return. That means that the team would only have one remaining player that they could have return from injured reserve. While Santos is definitely an above-average player at his position, he still is a kicker, and would not necessarily be in immediate demand if he were released outright by the team. With seven players already on this injury report for this week, and linebacker Tamba Hali currently on the player-unable-to-perform (PUP) list, the team would be wise to not precociously plan for Santos to be their second returning player.
Cutting Santos allows the team to maintain roster flexibility as it progresses through the season. It allows them to bring Santos back if he is healthy after six weeks, and their current kicker Harrison Butker struggles in his time as a starter. It also allows them to restructure a deal with him if he misses the rest of the season, and if they would like to bring him in for next season. Groin injuries can tend to be chronic, and the last thing the Chiefs would want would be for Santos to re-aggravate his injury after being activated from injured reserve. If he did somehow get injured again, the team could then choose to cut him or place him on injured reserve at that point in time.
Ultimately, cutting Santos does him justice. It allows him to take his time recovering from his injury, and not feel pressured to return before he is ready. It also gives him the option to explore other potential openings if the Chiefs have found their kicker of the future in Butker.