(670 The Score) There was a sense of finality that stuck with running back David Montgomery as his fourth season under contract with the Bears came to an end.
After the Bears lost to the Vikings in their season finale on Jan. 8, Montgomery walked out to the wishbone "C" in the middle of Soldier Field and took photos with his family, acknowledging that his time with the organization could be over. But perhaps that won't be the case after all.
Recently, Bears general manager Ryan Poles expressed a desire to re-sign the 25-year-old Montgomery as he addressed the plans for the team’s pivotal offseason. Montgomery is set to become a free agent in March.
“I’ve always wanted to keep David,” Poles said. “I love his mentality, how he plays the game. I told him that to his face. He’s part of the identity that we had this year that kept us competitive. Now, the second part of that is just the contract situation. That’s something that we’ll see how that goes and if we can find common ground. Obviously, I’ve learned that you can want a player and the value’s got to come together for it to happen. I love the way he attacked this season. That’s a guy that does everything right. You all watched his tenacity, his fight. I’m a big David Montgomery fan.”
A third-round pick of the Bears in 2019, Montgomery has carried 915 times for 3,609 yards and 26 scores in 60 games over four seasons with the team. He rushed for 801 yards and five touchdowns over 16 games in 2022.
Montgomery’s tenure with the Bears was marked by inconsistencies and challenges for Chicago's offense. With that as context, his consistent nature and competitive fire was greatly appreciated by his teammates and coaches.
“It’s hard to do over the course of a five-month season to every day come to work and be the same way when you got other (stuff) going on in your life, bumps and bruises,” Bears running backs coach David Walker said. “I appreciate every day I walk into the room, I know exactly what I'm getting in him.
While Poles’ admiration for Montgomery is genuine, his desire to potentially utilize the Bears’ salary cap flexibility on a running back is a separate matter.
This past season, Poles spoke glowingly of star linebacker Roquan Smith as the Bears attempted to work out a long-term contract extension with him. Smith’s demands were too high, and Poles eventually elected to trade him to the Ravens in late October for a second-round pick. Baltimore then signed Smith to the five-year, $100-million deal that he coveted all along.
Montgomery’s contract certainly won’t be crippling to the Bears’ salary cap, but is it worth giving a second deal to a player at a non-premium position?
“I feel like I’ve been a hell of a player, but I know that I’m just scratching the surface of what I can be and what I'm capable of,” Montgomery said. “It gives me more motivation and excitement going into the offseason knowing I can get better, and I will.”
Montgomery might seek $12 million annually, which is what running backs Aaron Jones (Packers) and Joe Mixon (Bengals) receive from their teams. That figure is tied for the seventh-highest annual salary for a running back. It would be a reasonable request from Montgomery, though the Bears might be more inclined to want to pay something like the $7 million annually that Leonard Fournette (Buccaneers) and James Conner (Cardinals) make. Those two running backs pull in the ninth-highest salaries at their position.
Assessing the market value for Montgomery could prove to be challenging, and a potential $5-million annual gap could be too much to overcome at the negotiating table. Meanwhile, the Bears are confident in the future of 24-year-old running back Khalil Herbert, who carried 129 times for 731 yards and four touchdowns this past season.
The Bears led the NFL with 3,014 rushing yards in 2022, which set a new franchise record and was the fifth-most in a single season in NFL history. That identity was built around dynamic quarterback Justin Fields and fortified by Montgomery and Herbert.
While the Bears want Montgomery back, they must find out if the price is right.
“If he’s here, I'm going to be excited,” Herbert said. “If he’s not, I know he’s going to get paid. I can’t control what happens. But he’s going to get paid. That's what I'm happy about.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.