Cue the “Snacks” jokes in Chicago. After Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman chose to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to concerns about COVID-19, Chicago was immediately left with a crater-sized hole in their defensive line. And former Detroit Lions and New York Giants standout Damon “Snacks” Harrison looks to be the primary contender to fill it.
The team’s starting nose tackle since he was drafted by the Bears in the second round (39th overall) in 2015, Goldman has been a stalwart member of the defensive line and one of the team’s most underrated players. His role is unique, and his ability to stop the run is going to be missed immediately unless the team can find a suitable replacement — although filling Goldman’s shoes entirely may not be possible at this point.
Goldman’s absence could very well result in defensive ends Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols moving inside a bit more than they’re used to, but Chicago could also try to snag one of the veteran run-stoppers still on the market, and “Snacks” Harrison is the best fit of the bunch.
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Damon “Snacks” Harrison: Affordable & Reliable Run-Stopper
Harrison spent his first four years with the New York Jets before he caught on with the Giants. An All-Pro in 2016, Harrison shuffled between the Lions and Giants over the past few seasons. He started 15 games for the Lions last year, and he had two sacks, three tackles-for-loss and 49 tackles. This was in limited action, as he played 46 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2019.
Harrison is 31, and he won’t be unaffordable. Goldman opting out gave the Bears a salary cap credit of $7.85 million, and they now have around $19 million in cap space. He’s not going to be a full-time starter, but he could be a definite impact player coming in.
Harrison may not be available even if the Bears want him, however. Per NFL insider Tom Pelissero, he has a newborn at home and isn’t sure if he wants to play this season. So if Harrison were to opt out, what would the Bears do?
Mike Daniels: Former Packer on the Cheap
Daniels isn’t a nose tackle, but if Robertson-Harris and/or Nichols moved inside to take Goldman’s spot, he could slide into their vacated roles. Daniels’ recent injury history is a definite concern, but if his foot and arm are back to full-strength, he could be a nice role-player off the bench.
He would also be an asset against the run, as he earned a grade of 75 or above in run defense from Pro Football Focus in five of his seven years with Green Bay. He has 30 sacks and 49 tackles-for-loss in 111 career games, and he would likely be one of the most affordable defensive lineman available right now.
Timmy Jernigan: Ex-Ravens Veteran is Also Free
Chicago might also want to take a look at former Ravens and Eagles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Jernigan has 17.5 career sacks in his six seasons, and would be a more low-risk signing than Daniels. He has 29 tackles-for-loss over his career, and he has started 51 games in that span. He also has 47 quarterback hits, but his injury history shouldn’t be overlooked.
The 26-year-old Jernigan broke his foot last season, and he missed the bulk of his 2018 campaign with a back injury. This will lower his price tag, but he’s a much younger option than both Harrison and Daniels, who also have a few red flags injury-wise.
Still, Harrison seems like the best fit, and if he decides to play this season, Ryan Pace and company should pick up the phone.