Come April, the Chicago Bears could be picking as high as second overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. And in March, OverTheCap.com’s estimations project Chicago’s football team to have upwards of $125M in available space under the 2023 salary cap. Considering the team’s current record (3-8) and the holes GM Ryan Poles has to fill this offseason, no wonder we’re all looking to the future.
To that end, I found it interesting that ESPN’s Dan Graziano made the connection of New York Giants running back/free-agent-to-be Saquon Barkley as a free agent fit for the Bears this upcoming offseason. In answering questions regarding Barkley’s market and teams considered to be a most ideal fit, Graziano answered: “Depending on how well they address the offensive line, he’d be a lot of fun lining up in the backfield with Justin Fields in Chicago, wouldn’t he?”
Yes, yes he would, Dan. Thanks for pointing that out.
Let’s get this stuff out of the way while I can. Yes, I know that “smart” teams don’t pay running backs these days. And merely offering up the suggestion gets you the stink-eye. But Barkley would be so much fun, and it’s not as if the Bears can’t afford it with all their cap space.
I can see the look on your face right now. It is a quizzical one. A look that says with needs at receiver, along the offensive line, and at various defensive positions, spending on a running back doesn’t make sense. But I just keep coming back to that magic number, $125 million. With that amount of space, signing someone like Barkley wouldn’t preclude them from any other moves. Especially if Jeremy Fowler is correct — he sees Nick Chubb’s deal (3 yrs/$36.6M/$20M guaranteed) as a “nice comp” for what Barkley figures to earn in free agency.
Hardly the bank-breaking deal that some would fear.
Moreover, an addition like Barkley isn’t something that just makes the ground game better. Barkley is a stellar pass-catcher out of the backfield, elusive in space, and has a nose for the end zone. Have you seen the receivers set to become available this offseason? Saquon is arguably a better and more accomplished receiver than anyone the Bears could conceivably sign in free agency. Upgrading the passing game should be a priority for these Bears. But if they can’t do it by adding a premier receiver this offseason, they need to be flexible enough to be creative in other ways of producing improvements through the air.
And lastly, I can’t help but circle back to Graziano’s original point. Putting Barkley next to Fields in the backfield is the stuff of an offensive play callers dreams. OK, so you can find “good” running backs on Days 2 and 3 of the NFL Draft. Cool. You can find an elite running back who does more than carry the ball by signing Barkley. As the great Vin Scully once said on a Dodgers broadcast during my younger years: “Good isn’t enough when better is expected.”
To me, scheming a good NFL offense is dependent on two things: (1) Good players with a propensity for making explosive plays and (2) creating mismatches with those players. And if you can combine the two, the sky is the limit for what an offense can do. Stop and think about it. Making opposing defenses account for Fields as a rusher and a passer *AND* Barkley as a runner and receiver would have defensive coordinators tied in knots before the snap and in their feelings after the play. And that’s before having to consider defending Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet, a receiver in the upcoming NFL Draft to be chosen later, and more.
Also? Football is supposed to be fun. And Bears football hasn’t been synonymous with fun for most of our lives. So … why not consider Barkley as a future option? I can’t imagine a more fun Bears offense than one with multiple game-breakers lining up in the formation on a given play. Sure, Khalil Herbert is a starting-caliber running back on a rookie-scale deal. Plus I realize that teams pull running backs off the scrap heap who put up serviceable numbers like they’re a dime-a-dozen. But that’s not fun. Fiscal responsibility when you have north of $100 million in cap space and have been playing offensive football like it was in the 1940s isn’t fun. What’s fun is adding another dynamic offensive player (Barkley) to an offense with a quarterback who could lead the way for a potent offense. Now, that is fun.
The new league year doesn’t open its doors for another 112 days. So I don’t want to get too far in the weeds here. But between Barkley, the offensive line options available in free agency, the Bears’ needs for offensive firepower, and their ability to wield the financial clout that comes with $100 million in cap space, I’m just about ready to fast-forward to March. But not after I fry that turkey tomorrow for Thanksgiving.