While this year’s running back market did not produce a top-10 contract at the position, some interesting dominoes fell. Perhaps none more so than David Montgomery, who left the Bears to be the Lions’ Jamaal Williams replacement.
The Lions gave Montgomery a three-year, $18MM deal that includes $8.75MM fully guaranteed. The Bears wanted to retain their veteran starter, however, with the Chicago Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley indicating the team believed it made a competitive offer. It just was not enough to keep Montgomery in the Windy City, something GM Ryan Poles said he was interested in doing earlier this offseason.
Chicago’s offer did not include any guaranteed money beyond Year 1 of the deal, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes. Montgomery can collect $2.25MM in additional funds if he is on the Lions’ roster on Day 3 of the 2024 league year. Seeing as it would cost the Lions more than $6MM in dead money to cut Montgomery before that bonus date, it represents a good bet this will be at least a two-year partnership. Only Miles Sanders received more fully guaranteed money among running backs in free agency this year.
“I would just kind of sum it up by saying players do have a choice,’’ Poles said of Montgomery’s decision, via Finley. ‘‘I thought we communicated well. I thought we negotiated well. At the same time, you don’t always know what’s going on in the background. But I thought we did a good job. We were transparent, we were organized and it just — it didn’t happen.”
Montgomery’s $6MM AAV matches the deal Williams played on from 2021-22. Williams said (via NewOrleans.football’s Mike Triplett) the Lions’ offer was disrespectful, leading him to the Saints on a three-year accord worth $12MM ($8.15MM fully guaranteed). The Lions did not pivot to Montgomery, 25, until Williams, 27, rejected their offer. Lions GM Brad Holmes said conversations with Williams’ agent at the Combine led him to believe the parties were closing in on another agreement.
“From a budgeting and planning standpoint pre-free agency, we had an allotment of resources set aside, really for Jamaal,” Holmes said, via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett. “Didn’t really even really consider another running back higher than that amount of resources that we set aside for Jamaal. And business happens and that’s part of this business and it just didn’t work.
“We tried, but when the market crystallized and it got to a point where David was in play, kind of within the range of resources that we had set aside, then that’s when we went ahead and went forward with David, which we’re extremely excited about.”
The Lions likely offered Williams a deal with similar terms as Montgomery’s, Biggs adds, pointing to the league’s 2022 rushing touchdown leader slightly miscalculating his market. The ex-Packers draftee still landed on his feet with the Saints, though his AAV is down compared to his Lions contract. Williams will move into position as Alvin Kamara insurance. Kamara could face a six-game suspension due to his February 2022 battery arrest.
As both NFC North teams believed they were on track to retain their starting backs, Biggs adds the Vikings also pursued Montgomery. It is unclear if Minnesota made Montgomery an offer, but this interest adds another layer to what has become an intriguing divisional backfield outlook. Dalvin Cook‘s seat remains uncertain, and multiple teams viewed the perennial Pro Bowler as available ahead of free agency. A day Montgomery committed to the Lions, the Vikings gave longtime Cook backup Alexander Mattison a two-year, $7MM deal that comes nearly fully guaranteed.
A day after Mattison’s agreement, the Bears gave D’Onta Foreman a one-year deal worth just $2MM ($1MM guaranteed). Foreman will team with Khalil Herbert in Chicago, though Biggs suggests the Bears adding to their backfield in the draft should not be ruled out. This intra-divisional shakeup involved the upper echelon of free agent backs, as the second wave at the position — from the Dolphins’ duo to Samaje Perine to Devin Singletary to Damien Harris — did not eclipse $3MM guaranteed. It will be interesting to see how the Bears and Lions fare with reshaped backfields.