Chicago Bears decline to use franchise tag, David Montgomery likely to hit free agency

Montgomery’s time with Bears could be over after 4 years

Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery looks to get by Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat during their game Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The franchise tag deadline came and went Tuesday and Bears general manager Ryan Poles elected not to use the tag in 2023. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but it means that running back David Montgomery will likely hit free agency next week.

The free agency negotiating period begins 11 a.m. Monday and teams can officially sign players beginning 3 p.m. March 15.

The franchise tag allows each NFL team to select one player per year who is on an expiring contract and add one additional year to his contract at a fixed price. Those one-year deals are typically expensive. They must be worth no less than the average of the top five salaries at that player’s position.

For a running back in 2023, that amounts to just over $10 million. Montgomery was the only likely candidate for the tag on the Bears’ roster.

After four years in Chicago, Montgomery now has the opportunity to test the open market. On most teams, Montgomery probably wouldn’t have been a franchise tag candidate. But on this Bears team, which has $98 million in salary cap space to spend this offseason, $10 million hardly seemed like a drop in the bucket.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Montgomery’s time in Chicago is over. He could re-sign with the team after seeing what other organizations have to offer. If Montgomery and Poles were serious about coming to an agreement, however, a contract extension likely would’ve happened before things reached this point.

The Bears drafted Montgomery with a third-round pick in 2019. He served as the lead back for the past four seasons. He averaged 1,212 total yards (rushing and receiving) per season to go along with 7.5 touchdowns per season. He helped the Bears set a franchise record for single-season rushing yards in 2022.

Montgomery could fetch upward of $12 million a year on the open market, particularly with fellow top running back targets Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard receiving the franchise tag from their teams in recent days. With those three off the market, Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders and Montgomery are the top running backs hitting free agency.

With regard to the running back position, it’s important to remember where Poles comes from and what experiences have shaped his idea of what successful NFL teams look like. Prior to becoming the Bears’ GM, he worked for a Kansas City Chiefs organization that hasn’t given a big contract to a running back since Jamaal Charles left the team following the 2016 season.

During his nine seasons in Kansas City, Charles was among the highest-paid running backs. But since Charles’ deal expired, the Chiefs have drafted and cycled through running backs fairly frequently, yet they have still found success. The organization has been to five consecutive AFC Championship games and won two Super Bowls. They won it again last month with seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco running wild on the Eagles.

Given that, Poles might be more inclined to find a running back he likes in the draft and pair him with returning back Khalil Herbert. Montgomery’s time in Chicago could very well be over.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.