Bears' defense 'missing a key part' after Eddie Goldman opts out

Tarik Cohen reflects on how playing at an HBCU helped him (1:59)

Bears running back Tarik Cohen explains how playing at North Carolina A&T aided his professional career, and he discusses how to help get talent at HBCUs recognized. (1:59)

The true manner in which the Chicago Bears value 26-year old nose tackle Eddie Goldman might be best measured in the dollars they invested in him.

Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 NFL season last week due to health issues related to COVID-19, received a four-year extension from Chicago in September 2018 that included an $11 million signing bonus and $25 million in total guarantees.

“We’re going to miss Eddie ... but we all understand and respect his decision,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said Thursday.

At the time of the deal, Goldman, whom the Bears drafted in the second round out of Florida State in 2015, had amassed 82 career tackles and 8.5 sacks in 36 NFL games. Over the past two years, Goldman has been credited with 66 tackles and four sacks. Solid numbers, yes. Gaudy numbers, no.

However, the Bears will tell you that Goldman’s importance on game day is not limited to the stat sheet. The 6-foot-3, 318-pound Goldman is widely considered one of the team’s best run defenders. Goldman has the size and strength to plug up the middle and force opponents to attack other areas of the defense.

Those who downplayed Goldman’s decision to opt out have not paid attention.

“The things that Eddie is really good at, he has very good foot speed, which puts him in position to win blocks,” Bears defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “Now he's got very good upper body strength, and he stays in really good balance. Those are things that Eddie's been really good at. And because of all those traits, he's always in a dominant position. So when he takes on blocks, he's able to get off blocks.”

Goldman’s play produces a trickle-down effect. Goldman’s ability to take on blockers often frees up Chicago’s inside linebackers to better flow unencumbered to the football.

Goldman’s absence is not lost on veteran Danny Trevathan, who has spent the past four seasons lined up behind Goldman in Chicago’s 3-4 defensive scheme.

“Man, Eddie’s a huge part ... huge, huge, role to this defense,” Trevathan said Friday. “I definitely support his decision. Eddie is a hard worker. He never complains. He’s one of those guys who puts his head down and goes to work. To have him not here, we’re definitely missing a key part.”

The race to replace Goldman is on.

“Luckily, we have good depth,” Pagano said.

The Bears have yet to officially practice, outside of walkthroughs. But Rodgers named five players -- many of whom have experienced success at defensive end -- who could potentially fill Goldman’s void.

“It just presents opportunity,” Rodgers said. “We've trained Bilal [Nichols] at the nose. We've trained Abdullah Anderson at the nose. We've trained in the past John Jenkins at the nose. Brent Urban has never played nose; we're training him at the nose position. Roy Robertson-Harris.

“We'd like to have options. At the end of the day, what you'd like to have is the best two, three, four guys out there on the field with the ability to substitute when you need to and not have any drop-off. So we're going to continue to train everybody at every position, just so we have some options right now, especially at this part of camp.”

In terms of sheer body size, Jenkins’ build (6-foot-3, 327 pounds) is closest to a prototypical nose tackle. Jenkins, an eight-year NFL veteran who started five games for the Miami Dolphins last year, previously played for the Bears in 2017.

“I think any time you bring a player back, you had a really good experience with him before,” Rodgers said of Jenkins. “He has size. He has length. He has power. He's got really good foot speed. He loves to play the game of football. And he's very coachable. I think after he was released here in 2018, I watched him when I had time. I watched him in the offseason, see how he was doing, is he still playing the way I felt he was capable of? I felt like he was playing well.”

Rodgers believes with added reps, the group of players auditioning for Goldman’s role -- Goldman is expected to rejoin the Bears in 2021 -- will eventually be good enough to stabilize the interior of Chicago’s defensive line.

“Eddie's been the anchor point in the middle for five years now,” Rodgers said. “Through experience, you learn. Eddie didn't just arrive in his first year and have all that ability. He learned how to play the game. We've got some guys who are getting more experience in those positions and are learning to play the nose position at a high level.”