Bears Twitter is ablaze with speculation regarding the running back position for the 2023-2024 season. Lead-back David Montgomery will hit free agency this offseason with a market value of $7.2 million per year. Following what appeared to be an emotional departure after the final game of the season, it appears there is little hope of his return to the Windy City next year.
The Bears selected Montgomery in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and he has been a fan favorite ever since. A consistently hard runner, Montgomery has the sixth most rushing yards in franchise history. Ahead of him stand Gale Sayers, Rick Casares, Neal Anderson, Matt Forte, and Walter Payton. They each had significantly more time to rack up yardage, playing between seven (Sayers) and 13 (Payton) seasons. Montgomery, meanwhile, just completed his fourth campaign.
With all the great Bears we’ve lost in the years-long rebuild— Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith— losing Monty would hurt the worst. Still, football is a business and Chicago can’t afford to waste the generational talent that is Justin Fields.
When it comes to the future of the Bears’ rushing attack, three camps emerge…
As one of the most productive runners in franchise history, Montgomery has earned a lucrative contract. If said contract comes from the Bears, the team gets the added locker room boost of keeping a “glue guy.”
Herbert is still on a rookie deal and the Bears have cash to burn. Fortunately for the front office, Montgomery is hitting the market at a bad time for ballcarriers. Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Williams, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Devin Singletary, and Tony Pollard are all looking for teams. They’ll find homes in 2023, but the supply looks like it’s outweighing the demand.
In the modern era of football, running backs get relatively terrible deals because they aren’t too hard to replace. With a crowded pool of talent and plenty of uncertainty with regime changes, Montgomery may be willing to take a team-friendly deal to remain RB1 in Chicago.
Someone say Saquon?
Since acquiring Christian McCaffrey in a blockbuster trade with the Panthers, the San Francisco 49ers are 12-0. The electric back injected dangerous versatility into the offense, taking pressure off quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy.
An equally talented player from the following draft class, Saquon Barkley, will be a free agent this offseason. Following New York Giants General Manager Joe Schoen’s recent press conference, it doesn’t appear the team will prioritize retaining Barkley.
He carries an estimated market value of $12.3 million per year and recently stated he doesn’t intend to “reset” the market for his position.
The Bears haven’t had a running back like Barkley since the 70s and 80s. While injuries have plagued his young NFL career, a healthy Barkley keeps defensive coordinators up at night. In New York, Brian Daboll has used him as equal parts weapon and decoy, helping quarterback Daniel Jones realize his best season yet. Beginning in a pistol or offset position, the Giants liked to motion Barkley to a slot receiver position to spread the defense, set up coverage mismatches, and create opportune lanes for quarterback draws.
Daniel Jones is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback and gave the Bears fits in week four, but he’s no Justin Fields. A Barkley/Fields read option is a wonderfully scary thought.
Gibbs me a second-rounder
To play football at the University of Alabama, one must be incredibly talented. To start at running back, one must be a freak.
There is no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL Draft but taking an Alabama running back is pretty close. Recent Bama products include Derrick Henry and Najee Harris.
Jahmyr Gibbs is a potential first-round talent with a second- or third-round grade. He is bigger than Khalil Herbert and faster than Tarik Cohen. With reliable catching ability and great open-field moves, he could be the security blanket check-down Fields needs to lead a game-winning drive.
Like Barkley, he can line up as a formidable runner, warranting linebacker attention, and motion out as a wide receiver, creating a huge mismatch and spreading the field.
The Bears are likely to earn a haul of picks in return for the first selection, so Gibbs is certainly the best value back in the conversation.
Photo Courtesy of Penn State Football.