Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff has been suspended for the first three games of the NFL season for violating the league’s policy and program for substances of abuse, tweets Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes (via Twitter), the team was likely expecting a suspension at some point, stemming from Ratliff pleading guilty in 2013 to a DWI charge in Texas.
Ratliff will turn 34 this Saturday and hasn’t played a full season since 2011, but his absence will be a significant blow for the Bears’ defense. A year ago, Ratliff racked up 37 tackles and 6.5 sacks in just 11 games, grading as the league’s sixth-best defensive tackle, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), despite playing fewer snaps than any other DT in the top 10.
With Ratliff out of action for the season’s first three weeks, it may open the door for rookie Eddie Goldman to step into the starting lineup. Goldman, out of Florida State, was the Bears’ second-round pick in this year’s draft, going 39th overall. Assuming he gets the starting nose tackle job, he’ll face a significant challenge in September, as the Bears open their season with three games against NFC playoff teams — the Packers, Cardinals, and Seahawks.