Ryan Poles moving Bears in new direction
After trading Khalil Mack and releasing Eddie Goldman and Tarik Cohen — three foundation pieces just two seasons ago — the first-year GM seems to be positioning the Bears for a transition/rebuild year in 2022 with a better shot at contending in 2023.
The Bears’ 12-4 NFC North championship team of 2018 seemed like the dawn of a new era — with a dominant defense led by 27-year-old All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack and a promising offense with Andy Reid disciple Matt Nagy in place to take quarterback Mitch Trubisky to a new level after a Pro Bowl appearance.
But now, that team is all but a memory.
One day after the Bears agreed to trade Mack to the Chargers for two draft picks, new general manager Ryan Poles continued his housecleaning by releasing nose tackle Eddie Goldman and running back Tarik Cohen, sources confirmed Friday.
Though Goldman and Cohen once were foundation pieces under previous general manager Ryan Pace, neither move was a big surprise as Poles streamlines the roster to his liking — acquiring needed draft picks for Mack and creating salary cap room with all three departures.
Goldman, who just turned 28, struggled to find his Pro Bowl-level groove last season after opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns about the coronavirus. And as a dedicated 3-4 nose tackle, he likely was an odd fit for the 4-3 defense the Bears will run under head coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams. The Bears attempted to trade him, but found no takers, according to NFL Network.
Cohen, 26, had not played since Week 3 of the 2020 season after tearing his ACL while making a fair catch of a punt against the Falcons. He missed the rest of that season and the entire 2021 season — 31 games — without ever being close to returning. He was cut with an injury designation, which means Cohen was unable to pass a physical at the time of his release.
The three moves create $15.2 million in salary cap space — pending June 1 designations — heading into free agency, which opens Wednesday. Trading Mack carries a $24 million “dead cap” charge but still saves the Bears $6 million net. Releasing Cohen saves $2.25 million) and releasing Goldman saves $6.66 million, per overthecap.com.
Trading Mack and cutting Goldman and Cohen are likely just the beginning of a roster renovation under Poles, who was hired in January to replace Pace, who was fired after seven seasons. Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who turns 32 on March 24, also is expected to be released after playing just five games last season (one start) because of a knee injury.
It’s an expected make-over, but still an indicator of just how quickly things can change in the NFL. Mack was the runner-up to Aaron Donald for Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and still one of the best pass rushers the game last season before his injury.
But with the Bears looking at a likely rebuilding year of transition in 2022, Mack’s value might not be higher and Poles took advantage, trading Mack to the Chargers for a 2022 second-round draft pick (No. 48 overall) and a 2023 sixth-round pick.
Goldman was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season and was considered one of the best run-stopping interior linemen in the NFL. And the 5-6 Cohen was an exciting gadget player with big-play ability and was an All-Pro kick returner in 2018.
Their departures indicate just how fast the Bears are going in a different direction under Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus. With defensive end Akiem Hicks and guard James Daniels in free agency, only four players from the 2018 remain on the roster — linebacker Roquan Smith, guard Cody Whitehair, safety Eddie Jackson and Trevathan.
But the hope and glory of the 2018 season had faded long ago. Poles seems to be taking a prudent tack — willing to take some transition-year lumps in 2022, then be better positioned for playoff contention in 2023, when the Bears have better draft capital, significantly more salary cap room — and quarterback Justin Fields in his third year in the NFL and second year in coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense.