As the NFL regular season comes to an end, the 3-13 Chicago Bears face a pivotal offseason. Armed with eight draft picks and over $100 million in cap space, general manager Ryan Poles must find a way to fill holes all over a roster that is mostly devoid of talent. One of his biggest priorities needs to be adding offensive talent around quarterback Justin Fields. Though the team’s glaring needs at wide receiver and on the offensive line have been discussed extensively, one facet of the team’s offense that has performed well this season is the running game, specifically running back David Montgomery. With Montgomery’s contract set to expire after this season, the Bears should seriously consider bringing back the running back as a cornerstone of the team’s offense.
In his age-25 season, David Montgomery has looked like an efficient and effective runner and receiver out of the backfield. He’s rushed for nearly 800 yards at 4 yards per carry while hauling in a career-high 85 percent of his targets for an additional 316 yards. But while these numbers are good and demonstrate Montgomery’s efficiency, they don’t exactly jump off the page. However, Montgomery’s most important contribution to the team doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. That’s because he’s grown into an excellent blocker out of the backfield, helping Justin Fields in several key situations this season. For instance, check out this play from last week’s loss in Detroit. While the highlight of this play was tight end Cole Kmet taking the snap and pitching the ball to Justin Fields, Montgomery’s key block on Lions corner Will Harris turned the play from a small pickup to a massive gain of 31 yards. Montgomery’s blocking ability sets him apart from many other running backs in the league today.
This leads us to Montgomery’s heir apparent, Khalil Herbert. Herbert, a second-year back, has shown flashes of efficient running in his two NFL seasons, averaging 4.2 yards per attempt last year and a whopping 5.7 yards per clip this season, albeit with a smaller workload than Montgomery. However, in last week’s matchup with the Lions, Herbert missed several blocks, leading to unnecessary pressure on Justin Fields. Herbert’s body of receiving work is also much weaker than Montgomery’s, as he’s only caught 22 passes in his NFL career. This isn’t necessarily a knock on Herbert, who has proven himself to be an effective complimentary back in the NFL. Instead, Herbert and Montgomery should be seen as a successful committee approach to the running back position, with the two players offering two unique sets of skills. The two backs are at their best when they play together, as they make up for each other’s shortcomings.
But keeping David Montgomery around will not necessarily be easy. Signing running backs to long-term deals has not worked out well for teams. Nearly every big running back contract handed out in recent memory has aged poorly, whether due to injury problems or simply a decline in production. Meanwhile, teams across the league have been able to find serviceable backs both late in the draft and in the free agent bargain bin. Thus, teams and fans alike have become more reluctant to use valuable resources on one of the lowest-value positions in football. It’s a smart move; investing heavily in the running back position has rarely led to success in the modern NFL. Handing David Montgomery a large contract would not be a good move for the Bears.
But what if Montgomery doesn’t demand a massive contract? First, his production, while nice, has not exactly warranted a massive deal. He’s only had one 1,000-yard rushing season and has never eclipsed the 250-carry mark. In addition, Montgomery will face significant competition at the top of the market this offseason; star backs Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard and Miles Sanders are all set to hit the open market. These factors may combine to make Montgomery’s contract demands somewhat reasonable. Effective starting-caliber backs, including James Conner, Austin Ekeler and Kareem Hunt, recently signed deals with annual salaries in the $6-7 million range. Giving Montgomery a deal with a similar salary for three to four years, which would make him a free agent before the dreaded age-30 season, could be a nice compromise for both sides. It would give Montgomery a decent amount of financial security while letting the team maintain its thunder-and-lightning approach at the running back position.
Overall, despite the stigma around giving running backs big deals, re-signing David Montgomery to a manageable contract would be advantageous to the Chicago Bears. In an offseason where the vast majority of the roster will be overhauled, having some semblance of continuity while retaining a productive player should be a serious consideration.