The Bears’ 2018 season was equal parts successful and fun, though it’s finally time to move on. But before we get right to 2019, let’s take a position-by-position look at the roster – as presently constructed – to find out what’s in store for the offseason and upcoming year.
Today: Running backs
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
Jordan Howard enters the final year of his rookie deal at a crossroads. He is no longer the feature back in the offense, but did tie a career-high with nine rushing touchdowns, improved as a blocker and receiver, and was a key contributor on a contending team. Sure, he isn’t the 1,000-yard factor he was in his first two years, but even Howard admits a winning environment makes up for the individual numbers not being there.
Tarik Cohen is coming off a Pro Bowl year as a returner, but his impact on offense was felt on multiple levels. In addition to carrying the ball 99 times for 444 yards and three scores, Cohen added 71 catches, 725 receiving yards and five touchdowns through the air, and even added a passing touchdown. Cohen is a do-it-all back who literally does it all and is a staple of this offense.
Taquan Mizzell Sr. didn’t get in the mix until late in the year, but his contributions were limited. He wasn’t all that effective as a rusher or a return specialist, which places him on the bubble. Perhaps Ryan Nall will make a run for a back-of-the-roster spot among the running backs. Nall was a training camp favorite whose hard-nosed rushes during the preseason earned him some points and helped land him a spot on the practice squad.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
Benny Cunningham brought a veteran presence, steady hand as a returner, and competent special teams skills. Even though he isn’t the dynamic returner he was when the Rams were in St. Louis, Cunningham appears to be the type of locker-room glue guy who could conceivably return on a team-friendly deal.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
I can’t envision the Bears releasing a two-time 1,000-yard back who just started to round out his game to be a complete player in order to clear cap space. HOWEVER, it’s worth pointing out that Howard earned escalator clauses that kicked his contract up into the $2 million range. If the Bears were to move Howard in order to move onto another back, they could bump their projected salary cap space to $14,309,741.
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
In a world where perception is reality, it sure seems like the Bears are looking to shake things up in the backfield. In addition to never ruling out the possibility of Kareem Hunt before he landed in Cleveland, Chicago has been connected to running backs throughout the early stages of mock draft season.
We are in the earliest phase of the offseason and running back is already shaping up to be a priority for the Bears in the offseason. And while the Howard-Cohen tandem isn’t problematic, there seems to be a growing consensus that the Bears probably should – at a minimum – add a third dynamic rusher to bring the running backs room together.