The Chicago Bears lost the heart and soul of their offense Tuesday night with the departure of running back David Montgomery, who signed a three-year deal in free agency with the Detroit Lions.
Montgomery will earn $18 million over the next three seasons, with $11 million guaranteed. It’s a reasonable contract for a running back and one that the Bears had more than enough salary cap space to match. But their decision to let Montgomery leave for a division rival suggests immense confidence in third-year pro Khalil Herbert.
Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Herbert has proven more efficient and explosive than Montgomery, averaging five yards per carry on 232 career runs. He was especially effective in 2022 before injuring his hip late in the season. Herbert carried the ball 129 times for 731 yards and four touchdowns, averaging an incredible 5.7 yards per run.
The knock against Khalil Herbert is his pass blocking; the concerns are real. The fastest way for a running back to find the bench is by missing a pass-blocking assignment or blitz pickup, and with the value placed on franchise quarterback Justin Fields’ health, his last line of protection must be at least competent.
Herbert is a professional running back coached by professional coaches. There’s no doubt his offseason focus will be on improving that part of his game, and if he develops into a capable pass protector, his upside is massive.
Herbert is a perfect fit for Luke Getsy’s offense, and the Chicago Bears know it. It likely played a major role in letting David Montgomery leave. Herbert has very good vision and patience to let his blocks develop, and he has the first-step quickness — he gets to full speed in a hurry — that allows him to explode through an opening and into the second level. He’s proven to have more long speed than Montgomery, which created routine chunk gains when he was on the field.
I don’t think the Bears’ running game will miss a beat without Montgomery. In fact, it has a chance to improve. The issue facing Chicago right now, however, is depth.
Second-year back Trestan Ebner didn’t impress as a rookie in 2022 and will begin this season on the roster bubble. Veteran Darrynton Evans was surprisingly solid, but he’s a free agent. Perhaps he returns.
And that’s it.
The Chicago Bears will add another running back this offseason, and there’s a chance it’ll be a player who can split carries with Khalil Herbert as he did with Montgomery over the last two seasons. There are reports that the Bears are considering Jamaal Williams, the former Lions’ touchdown machine. He’d be a ‘thunder’ to Herbert’s ‘lightning.’
If the Bears want a running back with even more upside than Herbert, perhaps they consider signing former Eagle Miles Sanders.
But if GM Ryan Poles wasn’t willing to spend $6 million per season on a player he openly admitted to adoring, it’s difficult imagining he’d do so for an outsider. Instead, it’s more likely the Bears add a second-wave free agent and a rookie at some point on Day 3 of the 2023 NFL draft.
Cheers to David Montgomery for cashing in. But don’t worry Bears fans. Chicago’s running game will be fantastic again in 2023.