July 18, 2024

Bears News

Bears 2022 free agency primer: Who is available at running back?

With David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert under contract, don’t expect the Bears to spend big

Chicago Bears running back Damien Williams carries the ball during warmups before their game against the Miami Dolphins Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Bears have a lot of needs this offseason.

Running back doesn’t appear to be one of them. General manager Ryan Poles mentioned the running backs unprompted at last week’s NFL Scouting Combine and said the “situation is good” at the position.

Lead back David Montgomery will play the final year of his rookie contract. Backup Khalil Herbert impressed during his rookie season in 2021. Tarik Cohen, who missed the entire 2021 season, remains under contract. Veteran Damien Williams is set to become a free agent. Backup and special teams piece Ryan Nall is a restricted free agent.

If the Bears do want to sign a free-agent running back, there are plenty available.

Top available running backs

Melvin Gordon, James Conner, Leonard Fournette, Sony Michel and Cordarrelle Patterson highlight this year’s free-agent running back class.

Patterson might command the highest salary, simply because of his versatility. He’s much more than just a running back. He made $5 million a year during his two seasons with the Bears but took a pay cut last season, earning $3 million in Atlanta. A career year on offense probably means he cashes in to the tune of $6 million-$10 million a year.

Fournette and Conner also will command high price tags. Look for teams to pay them upward of $6 million a year.

Houston Texans running back Phillip Lindsay warms up before a game against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 21, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.

Under-the-radar values

Phillip Lindsay is coming off a disappointing season and could come relatively cheap for someone who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as recently as 2018-19.

Marlon Mack has low-risk, high-reward potential. The former Colts running back tore his Achilles in September 2020. The injury paved the way for Jonathan Taylor to take over the Colts’ top running back spot. Even after returning from injury, Mack touched the ball only 30 times last season.

Other cheap backup options for the Bears include re-signing Damien Williams or taking a flier on the likes of Rashaad Penny, Darrel Williams, J.D. McKissic, Latavius Murray or someone in that mold.

Penny, however, might have played his way into a bigger payday with his late-season performance, especially considering his age (he turned 26 in February) and former first-round pedigree.

Bears’ level of need

Very low.

With Montgomery and Herbert on their rookie contracts, it seems unlikely the Bears will spend big at running back. Herbert showed last season that he is legitimately good enough to serve as Montgomery’s backup. Herbert essentially took over that No. 2 running back spot from Williams during the course of the season. Who knows whether Cohen will be in the mix as well at the position?

The Bears could sign a cheap veteran backup in case of injury, or they could simply move ahead with Nall as the third-stringer, while also taking a flyer on an undrafted rookie or two.

Best fits for the Bears

Re-signing Williams would be fine. But look for the Bears to be in the market for an inexpensive backup, a fallback option, so to speak. Murray has served that role well for other teams over the years. Lindsay or Mack could be worth taking a chance on in hopes that they return to earlier form.

The Bears aren’t going to break the bank for a running back. They simply don’t need to.

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.