Much has been made of how the Bears can ramp up their pass rush, and run defense, all on a budget this offseason. Can the team move Robert Quinn’s contract? Probably not. Will the team bring in J.J. Watt? Again, unlikely. Hiring Chris Rumph to replace Jay Rodgers as the defensive line coach? Certainly impactful, but in a vacuum not a game-changer. In the end, the biggest difference may simply be the return of a player who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns: Eddie Goldman.
“So in regards to Eddie, I have not been given any confirmation,” Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai said in his introductory press conference. “Quite honestly, I don’t know when that process— or if I get that confirmation— how that works. I think our expectation, and his I think, is that he will want to play, because I know he misses it and he wants to be back.”
The feeling is likely mutual. Without Goldman clogging up running lanes at nose tackle, the Bears’ run defense seemed to lose its teeth. In 2018 and 2019, two seasons in particular when people outside Halas Hall started to realize how important Goldman was to the defense, the Bears held opponents to just 91 rushing yards/game, on 3.87 yards/carry. But without Goldman in the middle those numbers ballooned to 113.4 yards/game on 4.1 yards/carry.
“Man, Eddie’s a huge part,” Danny Trevathan said last August after Goldman officially opted out. “Huge, huge, role to this defense. To have him not here, we’re definitely missing a key part.”
Goldman may not light up the stat sheet with gaudy sack or tackle numbers, but his impact on the game goes beyond the box score. He can fill more than one gap and soak up blocks, allowing his teammates like Trevathan and Roquan Smith to run freely to the ball carrier. His presence takes some pressure off of Akiem Hicks, allowing Hicks to operate more effectively as well. After putting up seven or more sacks in each of his first three seasons with the Bears, Hicks only managed three and a half sacks without Goldman operating beside him in 2020.
None of this is meant to downplay the jobs Bilal Nichols and John Jenkins did filling in for Goldman in 2020. They played very well plugging up the middle, but to borrow a term from Matt Nagy, Goldman plays like a “multiplier.” His presence on the field enhances the play of everyone else around him. That’s a special ability.
While Desai himself may not know exactly what steps need to be taken to bring Goldman back to the Bears, his return might be one of the most impactful moves for the defense this offseason.