In less than a month, the 2017 NFL season officially begins. With the legal tampering period starting March 7th and free agency kicking off March 9th, things are about to get really interesting for the Bears.
For instance, what is going to happen with Alshon Jeffery or who will be under center when the season begins?
We were teased during the season-ending press conference with the idea that general manager Ryan Pace will aggressively pursue ascending players around the league, even more so than in his first two off-seasons. So, who does Pace have in mind? What positions is he planning on upgrading?
All of these questions will be examined thoroughly over the next few months. There won’t be a day that goes by without twitter having post after post pushed out for consumption detailing the many scenarios that may or may not happen. I personally can’t wait.
However, something else stuck out to me during that press conference. While fielding questions regarding the success of his 2016 draft class, he mentioned many times that while pleased, the evaluation of a draft class can’t accurately be assessed until the conclusion of year three.
Pace is smart.
He knows 2016 was one of the better drafts this franchise has had in a quarter of a century. He didn’t make that statement for 2016, he mentioned it because of 2015.
When you evaluate Pace’s short tenure as a GM so far there is a lot to be positive about. The 2016 draft was stellar. There are several franchise altering players and several others with high ceilings. He has also been pretty solid in free agency, bringing in Akiem Hicks, Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan last offseason. You add the fact that he was able to swoop in and land Josh Sitton right before the season kicked off and that’s a pretty solid outing.
This brings me to the title of this post. The 2015 draft didn’t exactly have one jumping up and down. When you look at the players drafted who are still on the roster you have Kevin White, Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Jeremy Langford and Adrian Amos. You can put me in the camp of people saying White can still be an impact player. He was starting to show signs that he could be before he was hurt last year and I was very happy with the week to week progress we were all able to witness.
However, at this point, he is anything but a sure thing and you almost have to view his future contribution as a bonus. Cody Whitehair looks to be someone who will be a ten-year starter for the Bears (assuming they don’t move him to Guard) which makes Grasu more of a depth piece now considering they see a lack of positional flexibility in his game.
With Jordan Howard outrunning everyone’s expectations by a mile, it’s reasonable to consider Langford at best someone who can give Howard a breather or compete for a spot on the roster moving forward.
And while the verdict isn’t out on Amos just yet, he didn’t take that next step in year two after a solid first year, many of us were hoping to see.
Finally, that brings us to Goldman.
After a solid rookie campaign where he saw action in 15 games and tallied 16 solo tackles, 6 assist and 4.5 sacks, 2016 was unfortunately cut short by injury. After a serious ankle injury, the Bears shut him down. This is especially disappointing considering he came into camp a little lighter and ready to take the next step forward.
So yes, the title “The Importance of Eddie Goldman” can be taken a few ways. On the field, his impact on the game is significant. Running on the Bears becomes an easier task when he isn’t on the field. His impact is also huge when it comes to how we will regard the first year of Pace’s tenure.
Hypothetically, if Goldman doesn’t live up to his potential and be the player we all hope he can be, Pace might be looking at a pretty weak grade for his first draft. If Goldman does turn into the player we all hope he can be, that is going to change the way we view year 1 completely.
To put it plain and simply, if Goldman can break out in year 3 and become a star, not only will it be great for the Bears but it would also go a long way to salvaging Pace’s first draft as GM.
So, with every storyline we can expect to see in 2017, and I expect there to be plenty, don’t forget about the big man in the middle.