The Chicago Bears’ 2021 season is one we don’t mind leaving in the rear-view mirror.
With that being said, we’re looking ahead to 2022 and beyond. The Ryan Poles Era is underway. And with a new-look front office and a fresh set of eyes at head coach, a clean slate is at everyone’s fingertips. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into the offseason for a franchise that should be excited about changes on the horizon under its new leadership.
Today: Running back
Offseason need: Low
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
(Age in parenthesis)
David Montgomery (24) through 2022, Khalil Herbert (23) through 2024, Tarik Cohen (26) through 2023
New GM Ryan Poles arrives in Chicago and is met immediately with a fork in the road when it comes to the running back position. One path Poles could take would be to extend Montgomery in a move that rewards a productive and popular homegrown player with a second contract. A second option could be to let Montgomery play the 2022 season on a lame-duck deal and re-visit discussions down the road. The third path would be to replicate what Ryan Pace did with Jordan Howard after the 2018 season. That is when Pace dealt Howard — who was popular and productive in his own right — to the Eagles for a draft pick.
For what it’s worth, trading Montgomery would create $2.79 million in cap space this offseason. Just saying…
EXITING FREE AGENTS
UFA: Damien Williams (29)
RFA: Ryan Nall (26)
Williams has some familiarity with Poles dating back to 2018 and 2019 when they were crossing paths in Kansas City. However, I’m not sure how much that matters for a RB3 (RB4?) about to hit free agency. Then again, Williams was a core special teams member and could be someone the team retains to build a bridge moving forward.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
Cohen could be a high-profile cap casualty if this new regime wants to clear the deck. Cutting Cohen would create $2.25 million in additional space, which would come with a dead money hit of $3.5 million. A post-June 1 cut saves a hair more ($4M) while spreading the dead money hit over two years. But if the team was willing to take a short-term hit like that, then why not roster Cohen for 2022 and part ways in 2023 when a cut could create $5.75 million in cap room at the cost of just a $1.75 million cap hit?
That we’re talking about this already is disappointing. But the intersection of NFL business and a player coming off an injury from two seasons ago was bound to be a messy one. And that’s a real shame, because Cohen – when healthy – was an absolute joy to watch. No matter the situation, Cohen with the ball in his hands was going to do something wild.
Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT FITS
⇒ Chase Edmonds (25)
⇒ Marlon Mack (25)
⇒ Raheem Mostert (29)
⇒ J.D. McKissic (28)
What the Bears could do in free agency hinges on their in-house decisions. If Montgomery stays, there would be no need to target a starter or time-share partner with Herbert. But that changes if Monty goes. Should Chicago let Cohen leave, it will need to find a RB3 — ideally someone who can moonlight as a core special teams contributor.
PFF’s TOP-5 DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PROSPECTS
⇒ Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
⇒ Breece Hall, Iowa State
⇒ Dameon Pierce, Florida
⇒ Karen Williams, Notre Dame
⇒ Tyler Allgeier, BYU
There isn’t much we’ll miss about the old regime. However, their ability to unearth productive running backs over the last seven years was pretty neat. Let’s face it. This was the one area the old front office as able to excel in when identifying and developing offensive talent with any consistency. Go figure.
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
This is one of the few position groups where sticking with the status quo wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. Chicago’s running backs room has been a strength for years. Even when the torch was being passed from Howard to Montgomery, the Bears have had players who were willing and able to carry the load. I suppose the new front office could bolster the room with some more speed. You can never have too many burners. Perhaps someone with experience as a returner would make sense, too.