Some big decisions are looming for Bears general manager Ryan Poles.
With NFL free agency on the doorstep, the attention has to be on running back David Montgomery. He has played out his four-year rookie contract and will become a free agent in March, unless he signs a new contract with the Bears or Poles uses the franchise tag on him.
The Bears drafted Montgomery with a third-round pick (73rd overall) in 2019. He has been a reliable back for the organization ever since.
Here’s a look at how Montgomery stacks up against other running backs across the league.
Below is a rough comparison between Montgomery and several running backs who earned second contracts in recent years.
|Player||Second contract||Per year average||Age (at time of extension)||Games missed||Combined yards (rush & rec) per season||Combined TDs per season|
|David Montgomery||???||???||26||6 (four seasons)||1,212||7.5|
|Nick Chubb||3 years, $36 million; $20 million guaranteed||$12 million||25||4 (three seasons)||1,378||10|
|Dalvin Cook||5 years, $63 million; $28 million guaranteed||$12.6 million||25||19 (three seasons)||1,006||6.4|
|Aaron Jones||4 years, $48 million; $13 million guaranteed||$12 million||27||10 (four seasons)||1,105.3||10.8|
|Alvin Kamara||5 years, $75 million; $33.8 million guaranteed||$15 million||25||3 (three seasons)||1,492||12.3|
|Joe Mixon||4 years, $48 million; $10 million guaranteed||$12 million||24||4 (three seasons)||1,267||7|
Some notes to keep in mind:
- Dalvin Cook tore his ACL and missed most of his rookie season in 2017. Joe Mixon missed 10 games in 2020 with a foot injury.
- Aaron Jones was the only back on this list who played out the fourth and final year on his rookie deal before signing an extension. Everyone else signed before the final year of their contracts.
Not a single running back from the 2019 draft class has signed a contract extension. That’s a big reason why there is such a glut of running backs coming up in this free-agent class. Josh Jacobs was the first running back off the board and the only first-round running back in 2019 at 24th overall. Others from that draft included Montgomery, Miles Sanders, Darrell Henderson, Devin Singletary, Damien Harris, Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard.
All are pending free agents.
It’s a reflection of the changing thinking of GMs regarding the running back position. In a sport where every elite free agent is trying to set the market for his position, no running back has surpassed Christian McCaffrey’s four-year, $64 million extension inked in 2020. In the NFL, three years is an eternity for any player to remain the highest-paid player at his position. Saquon Barkley is the most likely to top McCaffrey’s mark, if anyone does in March.
Looking at the statistics, Montgomery stacks up well with the recent extensions listed in the chart above. He and his camp should be looking for at least $12 million per year. He matches up well with Jones and Mixon on this list.
Montgomery’s 2022 production was somewhat lower than 2020 and 2021. His production fell from 88.5 yards from scrimmage per game in 2021 to 69.8 yards from scrimmage per game in 2022. Overall, however, his production has been fairly consistent. His floor, when healthy, is more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and half a dozen touchdowns per season.
Wear and tear
Montgomery missed only one game in 2022. He has been banged up now and then but never played in fewer than 13 games in any one season. That is about as durable as you can ask a running back to be.
Salary cap implications
The Bears have $94 million in available salary cap space in 2023. Cap space is not an issue for Poles. Montgomery is the only reasonable candidate for the franchise tag on the roster. For 2023, that would be a one-year, $10 million tender.
Why it is, or isn’t, a good fit
The running back landscape makes this interesting. Barkley, Jacobs, Sanders, Pollard and Montgomery are all going to earn big contracts. This offseason will be a true test of how much modern GMs value veteran running backs. Will so many quality free agents be a good thing or a bad thing for a back like Montgomery, who isn’t in the top tier, but just below it? Will fewer teams be willing to pay what he’s asking for, or will the teams that miss out on Barkley and Jacobs be desperate for an answer?
Poles could tag Montgomery before he hits free agency. A $10 million price tag would be a bargain compared to what Montgomery should earn on the open market. From Poles’ perspective, it actually could make sense to do that. He has been vocal about liking Montgomery and wanting him on the team moving forward. The tag, of course, can sour the team-player relationship and add unnecessary drama.
The question comes down to how much money Montgomery believes he’s worth. Poles, remember, comes from a Chiefs organization that has been to five straight AFC title games without giving out a huge contract to a running back. Not since Jamaal Charles left the team after the 2016 season have the Chiefs handed out a multiyear second contract to a running back.
That would seem to indicate Poles might let Montgomery walk and take his chances with Khalil Herbert, Trestan Ebner and another back in the draft.