The Chicago Bears have a starting running back job that could be up for grabs with 2022 starter David Montgomery hitting free agency this offseason. Fortunately for the team, there are not only plenty of suitors on the free agent market, but the Bears also have the cap space available to land one of them.
One of the most notable free agent running backs this offseason is five-year veteran Saquon Barkley, whose rookie contract with the New York Giants expired after the 2022 season. Given Barkley’s outstanding bounce back this year, is he the right fit for Chicago? Should the Bears use a significant part of their available cap space to secure him?
A main factor in the Bears’ offseason decisions, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, is whether Chicago likes who they have in the building already—namely, Khalil Herbert and Trestan Ebner. Despite playing behind Montgomery almost every game this year, Herbert, for his part, proved that he has nearly all of the tools necessary to be the Bears’ lead back should the responsibility fall on him next year.
Herbert was a dynamic runner that easily could break open long runs once he reached the open field—something that made him the NFL’s season leader in yards per rush attempt for a running back. And when he did have to fill in as the starter in 2022 for the game and a half Montgomery missed with an injury, he ran for 234 yards on 39 carries, an average of six yards per carry. There are some areas for improvement—particularly on passing downs as both an extra blocker in pass protection and as an additional receiver in the passing game—but Herbert proved he has all of the potential to be a leading rusher in a run-first offense.
On the other hand, Ebner is a bigger unknown as someone who played as a primary special teamer in his rookie season. Herbert clearly has a future in the Chicago offense, but whether the Bears see a bigger role for Ebner going forward could be a significant part of their free-agency decision-making.
Adding a free agent running back like Barkley would allow the Bears to re-up on the dominant one-two punch out of their backfield that Montgomery and Herbert provided alongside quarterback Justin Fields in 2022. As solid as Herbert has been, Barkley would still be a clear upgrade. In addition to the dynamism he proved he still has as a runner this year, he also showed off how much he could contribute as a pass-catcher. Barkley led all Giants offensive players in targets and tied for the team lead in receptions. Adding Barkley as the new lead back in front of Herbert would allow both players to continue taking advantage of their skill sets and maximizing their contributions to the offense.
There are still some downsides to signing Barkley. For one, he’d eat up a significant portion of the nearly $100 million in cap space the Bears have this season, which leads the NFL. Chicago might also hold the first overall pick in the coming draft, but there are tons of other spots on their roster that could use major help in free agency. Committing too much money to a position as volatile as running back could not just be a long-term risk—especially given Barkley’s injury history—but could also hamstring the Bears from making other potential upgrades in the short term.
While Barkley would definitely be an upgrade and strong veteran presence for the Bears’ running backs room, he’d cost a pretty penny as a high-profile free agent. Given that Chicago already has two developmental projects with solid potential at running back, they have the chance to save money at a non-premium position for their 2023 roster. That saved money then could be allocated elsewhere, such as their weak offensive line. In all, a move like signing Barkley—or any big-name, free-agent running back—is probably not the smartest long-term move for the Bears.
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