By Robert Zeglinski
Every NFL general manager goes into a draft with a mission of finding core players, depth, and competition. Every prospect picked should be selected with the ideal of becoming a productive long term player with your organization, despite the hit-or-miss variance between rounds.
Since it’s early in Bears’ GM Ryan Pace’s tenure, we’ve yet to circle back on most of his classes. But entering the fourth year means discussions concerning his 2015 draft comes to the forefront. 2015 was when Pace joined the Bears, and while it’s not considered his leading haul, it did see two competent starters added to Chicago’s foundation. Even with the declined fifth-year option of first rounder Kevin White, the Bears managed to find some diamonds
Those two starters are second rounder Eddie Goldman, the Bears’ anchor of their defense. And Adrian Amos, a gem of a fifth rounder as a hard-hitting in-the-box safety. Decisions on extending either before they’re out-priced this summer and in the coming fall, or whether the Bears feel they can set a replacement plan, loom.
Let’s unpack the individual circumstances of the Bears bringing Goldman and Amos back long term.
Eddie Goldman, NT
Career statistics: 55 tackles, 8.5 sacks (three seasons)
Quotable: “It’s my fourth year and I’m still one of the youngest in the room,” Goldman to The Athletic Chicago
At 24, Goldman is one of the younger and more underrated point-of-attack defensive lineman in the NFL. Statistics don’t tell the whole story, as while he isn’t Aaron Donald – a pass rushing terror – nor is he apt to that play, he has entirely different responsibilities.
More than any other player on the Bears’ defense, Goldman’s job is to occupy space. Now, that sounds straightforward, but as a two-gap interior defender it’s not easy: especially when you’re taking on double teams from interior offensive linemen. The 6-foot-4 and 320 pounder is more proficient at this skill set than most give him credit for.
Goldman is the key cog in the middle of Chicago’s defense that allows linebackers like Danny Trevathan to roam free and create space for tackles. His disruption and push up the pocket to occupy blockers’ attention gives Akiem Hicks ample room as a pass rusher. He’s the engine that makes defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s unit go. Without him, the scheme falls apart. His absence is not only the most underrated, but most noticeable.
In 36 career appearances (32 starts) how successful Goldman’s presence is for the Bears is extremely prevalent. With Goldman on the field, the Bears have averaged allowing 109 rushing yards a game: around 12th to 13th for team defensive totals in 2017. With Goldman not available, the Bears have averaged allowing 135 rushing yards a game. That would’ve been the worst rushing defense in the league last year, fourth-worst in 2016, and also the worst in 2015. Goldman is the divergence between an average and abhorrent defense.
There isn’t a precedent for defensive tackles that don’t get sacks to be the absolute highest paid for the position, but they’re still valued tremendously. Based on skill set and most recent extensions, the players Goldman most fairly compares to among the top 10 interior defensive line contracts are the Vikings’ Linval Joseph (ninth-largest contract signed last fall, $12 million per year, $31.5 million guaranteed), and Eagles’ Timmy Jernigan (10th-largest contract also signed last fall, $12 million per year, $24 million guaranteed).
Joseph is considered one of the premier defensive tackles in football, while Jernigan was set to be an incremental piece for the Eagles’ defending Super Bowl Champion defense before a back injury this off-season. Since both signed four-year extensions at 29 and 25-years-old, respectively, there’s only a small chance Goldman accepts any less term, money per year, or guarantees. In fact, he’ll assuredly take slightly more than Jernigan.
Given Goldman’s importance to the Bears’ core as one of the youngest players on the roster (the fourth-year pro is the same age as second-year safety Eddie Jackson), Chicago would do well not to lowball the nose tackle. He is priority No. 1. Expect a deal in the realm of four years, $48 million total, with around $28 million guaranteed by the conclusion of summer 2018.
Adrian Amos, S
Career statistics: 171 tackles, 10 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, one interception, one sack (three seasons)
Quotable: “Either way, in my eyes, I have to play through this year and prove myself,” Amos to WGN
Amos’ career trajectory with the Bears has been fascinating. After being seen as a bright spot and building block as a rookie in 2015, he had one of the worst seasons in coverage for any Bears defender in recent memory in 2016. It was enough for him, as many neglect to forget about the Pro Football Focus darling slash All-Pro last year, to not be a starter immediately in 2017.
If not for a broken arm of veteran safety Quintin Demps suffered in Week 3, Amos takes more time to get on the field, and has less than his 13 starts. Injury happen stance is as much to do with him having his rebound season, as for actually breaking back out.
Nevertheless when he did play, Amos showed obvious signs of improvement as a defender that doesn’t make mistakes. A hybrid linebacker of sorts, there aren’t many safeties that are as sure tacklers as him. From sideline to sideline, Amos is an exemplary extra safety in the box. That type of player does have credence with an organization. How much is a large contrast.
Amos can play in this hybrid linebacking role because of the free range of Eddie Jackson: someone that takes on more coverage responsibilities on the back end. The duo complements each other better than most other safety combinations in the NFL. There’s no doubting that due to his ability to force turnovers and make plays on the ball in the air, Jackson is far more instrumental to the Bears’ defense.
In one season, Jackson forced five turnovers, with two interceptions. In three seasons, Amos has four turnovers total. It took until his 32nd start against the Ravens last year to finally get an interception: on a tipped fluky pass he returned for a touchdown in an overtime victory.
Safeties like that, meaning those who are liabilities in pass coverage and don’t force turnovers, don’t get paid. Look at current and capable free agents such as former 49er Eric Reid (although he hasn’t been signed for reasons more than football), and former Saint Kenny Vaccaro. Both had more interceptions and productivity by the time they became free agents, and are in the same range of mid-20’s safeties looking for somewhere to latch on.
Who Amos best compares to in play style is the Ravens’ Tony Jefferson (ninth-largest contract signed last spring, $8.5 million per year, $34 million guaranteed). It’s debatable as to how valuable Jefferson was to Baltimore long term for a team that’s currently stuck in salary cap hell, however. The Ravens didn’t noticeably improve in either total passing or rushing defense with Jefferson in the fold from 2016 to 2017. As someone with a minimal three career interceptions in five seasons, he’s not someone that tilts the field for Baltimore. He just doesn’t make mistakes when he’s called upon, like Amos.
There’s the possibility that Amos showcases ability we haven’t seen yet, but at 25, he’s likely reached his ceiling and is who he is. The standing for improvement is there, but minimal. And in the end, the proficiency Amos offers is valuable, but ultimately replaceable and not conducive to the future of the Bears’ salary cap constraints.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.