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Bears mailbag: Eddie Goldman’s extension and potential free agent flops

Matt Nagy’s first training camp is winding down. That means the deserved paydays of anchors like Goldman comes into focus soon. That and more in this week’s mailbag.

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NFL: Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
If the Bears are smart, Eddie Goldman should see a hefty payday soon. But when?
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

While the ongoing holdout of a certain, special first round pick has begun to overshadow most of the good the Bears have accomplished in training camp in Matt Nagy’s first go-around as head coach, that doesn’t mean we can’t ignore the developments in Bourbonnais.

Mitchell Trubisky is finally getting accustomed to his responsibilities in a new and more complicated offense. The Bears defense seems to be raring to go, with the secondary forcing turnovers left and right almost every practice. And, a revamped tight end group is shining with regularity.

All of this while Nagy and company have relentlessly optimistic smiles glued to their face at the prospects of what the 2018 season could offer if (mostly) everything goes according to plan.

Training camp season is by it’s very nature, a symbol of this hope. Unfortunately, camp has but two practices left for the Bears before they return to Halas Hall and business as usual. A great deal of business they’ll have to answer for quickly.

It’s back to reality as we open up this week’s Bears mailbag.

I know he’s not the most prolific pass rusher, as run-stuffing defensive linemen don’t nearly hold the same value. I know he’s had health issues in the past with his ankles. But if there was a player on the Bears’ current roster to lock in long term before his performance explodes while he’s still young (just 24-years-old), it’s Eddie Goldman.

Goldman, the Bears’ second round pick in 2015, has long been praised as the anchor to what Chicago tries to accomplish defensively under Vic Fangio’s guidance. He’s not a superstar, that’s for sure. He’s nevertheless the tight, burly fabric holding the defense together.

Don’t believe me?

In Goldman’s 36 career appearances over three seasons, the Bears have averaged allowing 109 rushing yards a game. In that time span, that’s been good for 12th to 13th across the NFL. In the 12 games he’s missed, the Bears have allowed an astonishing 135 rushing yards a game. That would’ve been the worst rushing defense in 2017, fourth-worst in 2016, and also the bottom of the barrel in 2015.

The bottom line is that with Goldman you could characterize Chicago as having a playoff worthy rushing defense. Without him, they’re routinely victimized by the afterthought of most elite offenses in 2018.

Yes, he only has 8.5 career sacks. However, as the nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, Goldman’s responsibilities aren’t to have a ton of pass pressure. He’s supposed to occupy gaps, take on and split double teams, and create space for linebackers to finish plays. There are few around the league who do this better than Goldman.

In general, 3-4 defensive linemen like his teammate in Akiem Hicks that rush the quarterback successfully are considered outliers. To say Goldman’s skill set doesn’t have value underrates exactly what he’s capable of and is comparing apples to oranges. He’s also the rare draft pick that could likely see three huge contracts in his career given his youth. Who knows what type of player he evolves into down the line? After all, guys like Hicks didn’t start accumulating sacks until they were 26.

You have to think the Bears already have the fine outline of Goldman’s contract essentially finished. There are just other higher and more pressing priorities to deal with first. I’d be shocked if Goldman isn’t signed to a four-year deal worth around $40 million with $24 million guaranteed by the time the Bears visit the Packers in Week 1. You don’t run the risk of letting core players play in a contract year without a new contract.

Ah, the fond memories of the Bears’ woeful 2017 free agent class. One of the worst open market periods for the Bears in well ... ever. A class not least of which highlighted by the stellar addition of Markus Wheaton and his tremendous three receptions for 51 yards in 11 appearances (apologies to Mike Glennon). Three catches that should live on in franchise history and be played on highlight clips for years.

In all seriousness, I don’t see the Bears’ 2018 free agency signings playing out nearly as disastrously. In fact, while I don’t think receivers like Allen Robinson or tight ends like Trey Burton enter the conversation of “elite”, I do believe Chicago is going to receive a visible boost from the added skill position talent it has.

That being said, someone has to be the biggest potential flop. Someone has to be the potential fall guy if everything goes haywire.

With apologies to Aaron Lynch (who I’ve never had high expectations for in the first place given his injury history), Taylor Gabriel is the 2018 Bears free agent addition most likely to be this year’s Wheaton. That means he’s most likely to be a disappointment.

The four-year veteran in Gabriel is rightfully touted as one of the most electric weapons in the NFL with the ball in his hands. Yet, he’s only had two seasons actually doing that, both of which came with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator with the Browns and Falcons, respectively.

Each of Gabriel’s other seasons that have conveniently been swept under the rug in Cleveland and Atlanta, have seen the 5-foot-8, 165 pound weapon be an afterthought. In 2015 and 2017 combined, Gabriel caught 619 yards with one touchdown and averaged 10 yards a reception. In 2016, with one of the NFL’s top offenses ever in the Falcons, he caught 579 yards, averaged 16.5 yards a reception, and scored six times.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The biggest potential for a fall in the smallest package.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Which brings us to the crux of the issue: the only year that Gabriel has ever consistently produced as a relatively efficient weapon was when he had an MVP quarterback (Matt Ryan), one of the two best receivers in football flanking him (Julio Jones), one of the brightest offensive minds in Shanahan, and was able to play on the fast track turf of the old Georgia Dome. An overtly stacked offensive unit in ideal playing conditions for a player of his size. And an individual year that feels as if the Bears are placing too much stock in.

Otherwise, Gabriel’s only played in 16 games twice in his career (2014 and 2017), and could reasonably be called a gadget feature and nothing more. He’s not some dynamic, field-tilting offensive weapon until the Bears figure out how to channel the one year where he was terrifying. And until the Bears and Nagy prove they’re as stacked and innovative as those Falcons were, I have a hard time believing Gabriel is worth his four-year, $26 million dollar deal with $14 million guaranteed. That’s a lot of cheddar for a third or fourth option (at best) in the passing game, and a lofty bet on upside with history nowhere nearly in his favor.

Hypotheticals before a rookie has suited up in full pads are my favorite scenarios, but hey, why not?

Whenever supposed fan favorite Bears villain Roquan Smith does sign his contract, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to any time soon, I don’t see Chicago’s defense getting particularly creative in it’s linebacker deployment. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a lot of things, most of which good, but he’s not an innovator. Fangio’s an old school throwback that prefers to play straight up. His experimentation lies in maximizing natural positions for his players like using Adrian Amos more in the box, not wholesale shifts of roles guys haven’t been in before. He’s always about attempting to place his defense in the best possible position without much flair, and that’s occasionally to his detriment.

A linebacker corps featuring Nick Kwiatkoski on the edge would be fun and a cool twist, considering that he was seeing time there earlier this off-season. The Bears’ lack of proven outside linebackers is well-known and could sink their progress defensively this season. In the most dire straits, you theoretically try anything.

But I think the Kwiatkoski pass rushing experiment was snuffed out by necessity because of Smith’s holdout. Kwiatkoski hasn’t seen much time on the edge during camp because he’s had to start at inside linebacker during Smith’s absence. Until Smith appears, Kwiatkoski will continue to get his snaps inside, as he should. The Bears don’t have any other reliable depth at the position, so they need Kwiatkoski as a swing man.

Besides, I think that by the end of the preseason, the idea of young guns like Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving opposite Leonard Floyd will be much more comforting than it is at the moment. Call it a hunch, but at least one of them will act as responsible depth at minimum. Good depth in young players is more ideal than forcing square pegs into round holes: something Fangio has never been known to do in his extensive coaching career.

The idea of trading for an All-Pro and former Defensive Player of the Year in camp holdout Khalil Mack, by using the rights to a top draft prospect also holding out in Smith, is the most preposterous of Madden Franchise Mode trades I’ve seen proposed in the past month. The logic is impeccably flawed given the constraints of both tenuous situations and rooted in unrealistic name recognition, nothing more.

No, the Bears cannot trade Smith for Mack. No, the Bears will not trade for Mack.

For one, why would the Raiders trade a proven generational pass rusher they’re having issues with for an unproven inside linebacker who would likely cause them much of the same problems? The math doesn’t add up.

For the other, in entertaining a trade, Smith alone isn’t nearly enough to acquire Mack. Mack’s otherworldly capacity to carry a defense on his back and harass top quarterbacks to no end makes him one of the most valuable non-quarterbacks in football. As long as he maintains his current pace, he’s a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. To trade for a player of that caliber you have to give up at least multiple first round picks for it to be a fair deal. And even then the team trading away a player like Mack is still giving away more.

In that sense, if the Bears did attempt to try to trade Smith for Mack, it’d be like Billy Madison trying to trade a banana for an amazingly delicious snack pack. No kid or team has lost their mind enough.

Simply put, trades of players like Mack don’t happen. They’re literally what you play around with when flipping on your Xbox or Playstation. These are deals that send ripple effects across the league and are remembered for generations. That’s how unrealistic they are without taking into account the notion of “Smith for Mack”.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles
Don’t expect to see a No. 52 lining up outside for the Bears.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No front office in their right mind gives the value of Mack up.

No, the Bears cannot trade Smith for Mack. No, the Bears will not trade for Mack.

Repeat everything I’ve just said for the Rams’ superstar holdout in Aaron Donald too, because it’s the exact same thought process. Ingrain it into your mind.

Given his lofty status of what is effectively royalty, I don’t think there ever comes a time where Mike Ditka’s name isn’t uttered in revered tones by someone, somewhere. He’s built up too much of a legend, being the only coach to bring an NFL championship to the Bears in roughly the last six decades.

Now, Ditka’s done a lot (and I mean a lot) to steadily erode that goodwill from coaching and playing professional football in Chicago in his time away from the spotlight. But some people will forever be able to ignore who Ditka the person is and solely appreciate his surly sweater vest, mustache, and cigar caricature (please stop these Halloween costumes) as he was one of the faces of the Bears’ best team ever.

What’s the best way to hear the word “Ditka” less, as with endlessly hearing about the 1985 Bears less? Have Trubisky become a full-fledged legitimate star quarterback. Not like Jay Cutler was a “star”. No, an actual game-changing signal caller. Have the Bears become a consistent playoff team that contends for multiple championships. And, of course, they have to win a Super Bowl.

The only way to revere the past less is to make the present more enjoyable. If these modern Bears become that type of contending team, the ‘85 iteration will fade into a less prominent memory. That’s the only merciful way they do.

Robert is an editor, writer, and producer for Windy City Gridiron, The Rock River Times, The Athletic Chicago, and a host of other fine places. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.