Bears Offseason Outlook: Defensive Line

Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of positional breakdowns as the Bears enter the offseason. You can find them all here.
(670 The Score) Despite the Bears' collective inconsistency in 2019, they exited the season plenty confident in their defensive line.

Pro Bowl talent Akiem Hicks was limited to four games due to injury, but that allowed Nick Williams to prove his place in a breakout campaign, with his six sacks tied for second on the team.

If the Bears can re-sign Williams this offseason, they'll have three starters set on the defensive line in Hicks, Williams and nose tackle Eddie Goldman. 

Williams' future is the key question looming over the defensive line entering 2020.

Who's back: Akiem Hicks, 30; Eddie Goldman, 26; Bilal Nichols, 23; Abdullah Anderson, 24
Free agents: Nick Williams, 29; Brent Urban, 28; Roy Robertson-Harris, 26
How they got here

The Bears had already established a dynamic tandem in Hicks and Goldman on their defensive line entering 2019, so goal for general manager Ryan Pace was to establish a stronger rotation.

Five years into Pace's tenure, the Bears have built their best defensive line yet. The emergence of Williams was a pleasant surprise given that he has been a journeyman. He had been in the NFL since 2013 but didn't play at all in 2017 and hadn't posted a sack before 2019. Only star edge rusher Khalil Mack had more sacks for the Bears than Williams last season.

"I wanted to let them know that they had a good football player," Williams said after the season.

After bouncing between five rosters and fighting for an opportunity, Williams will now be coveted by teams in free agency. It's an opportunity he has earned.

Hicks' absence across 12 games was felt, with the likes of Mack and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd seeing their production dip without the Bears' key presence on the defensive line. Goldman was his usual effective self, being named a Pro Bowl alternate, though he didn't get the call to Orlando.

Second-year pro Bilal Nichols suffered a hand fracture, which hampered what he hoped would be a breakout season. Nichols played just 41 percent of the team's snaps on defense. Robertson-Harris worked a career-high 51 percent of the defensive snaps, posting 2.5 sacks.

Quote to note

"Just going and working my ass off again. I only know one way to train, and that's training like a dog, training hard ... I can be a lot better."

-- Williams on building off his breakout season

What's ahead

With Hicks and Goldman locked in moving forward, the Bears will look to address their surrounding depth on the defensive line.

With that in mind, Pace will have to balance his belief in Williams' future against Robertson-Harris' rising potential and the expectation for what kind of jump Nichols can make after an unfulfilling 2019.

The Bears have more pressing needs to fill this offseason, namely on offense. So they won't have large budget available to spend on the defensive line.

Given how Williams and Robertson-Harris showed growth in the last two seasons, it's likely the Bears will work to bring both back.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.