The Bears are being patient regarding a Montgomery extension, with Dan Graziano of ESPN.com noting the team should be expected to see how the veteran back looks in Chicago’s system before determining if it will go forward with a second contract. This is in line with how other teams are proceeding with backs from the 2019 draft class, which has seen teams operate with less urgency compared to the more talented 2017 contingent.
The primary Chicago starter since going in the 2019 third round, Montgomery has one 1,000-yard season (2020) and two 800-plus-yard campaigns. Helping the 2020 Bears to the playoffs, Montgomery reached 1,508 scrimmage yards that season. He notched 308 receiving yards in 2021 and will now transition to Luke Getsy‘s offense. Next Gen Stats rated Montgomery as below average in terms of rushing yards over expected (minus-26) last season, but he also rated 10th in rushing yards after first contact in 2021.
Chicago’s rebuild is set to usher in a new-look offensive line. Entering the preseason slate, the team is preparing to go with fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones and 12th-year veteran Riley Reiff at tackle. Newcomers are also expected to be starters at center (Lucas Patrick) and right guard (Michael Schofield). Left guard Cody Whitehair may well be the only holdover for the Bears, who have a new head coach and general manager in place. The staff turnover also clouds Montgomery’s future.
Multiple teams’ retention efforts this offseason did create a middle class of sorts at running back. The Cardinals and Buccaneers, respectively, signed James Conner and Leonard Fournette to three-year, $21MM deals. A significant gap exists between the top tier — populated largely by 2017 running back draftees — and that duo. Among veteran contracts, no running back is earning between $7-$12MM per year. With a solid season, Montgomery could be a candidate to bridge that gap. Of course, others reside in that space as well.
The Bears have Justin Fields and Darnell Mooney tied to rookie deals, and their defense — regardless of what happens with Smith — does not have many high-end contracts. But it is unclear how Poles and Co. will value the running back position. A few teams have starter- or starter-caliber backs on the early track for free agency in 2023. Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, and 2019 draftees Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Damien Harris and Devin Singletary are unsigned beyond 2022. While it cannot be assumed all will be available, this setup could create a crowded market for backs next year.