The Bears shipped out Jordan Howard for a sixth-rounder, welcomed in top pick David Montgomery for third- and fourth-rounders and markedly declined running the ball in 2019.
Montgomery may be a better fit as the lead back in Matt Nagy’s offense, but his rookie campaign and Howard’s final season in Chicago were uncannily similar statistically, with both averaging 3.7 yards per carry and Howard tallying five more yards from scrimmage (1,080 to 1,074) on three more touches (270 to 267). Essentially, it cost Nagy and Ryan Pace a ton to confirm that their run scheme and offensive line, not either lead back, are the root causes of one of the worst ground games in football over the past two seasons.
The Bears also spent $3 million on Montgomery’s new backup, Mike Davis, who provided 18 touches and 47 yards from scrimmage prior to his release in Week 10, a loss-cutting decision surely borne from the likelihood that doing so could allow them to earn their first compensatory draft pick in a decade.
Finally, Tarik Cohen went from being among the NFL’s more reliable and dynamic receiving backs two seasons ago to, well, the exact opposite in 2019. The good news? It would appear the Bears have only one way to go from here …
2019 Matter of Fact: The OL and TE corps were a disaster and cannot escape mention in this space, but we’ll go in-depth later in the week on their demise and the role it had in the regressed run game.
But back to the Montgomery-Howard comparisons for a moment. It’s worth noting that the rookie’s reputation for elusivenesss preceded his arrival and was as advertised: Montgomery finished seventh in the NFL in rush attempts per broken tackle (8.7), compared to Howard’s 31.3, fifth worst among qualifiers last season. Montgomery also earned high marks in pass pro and was a more rounded receiving threat, albeit with virtually identical production, save for two drops on 35 targets (none for Howard on 26).
The determined Montgomery’s charge in Year 2 must be to leave less meat on the bone after he makes defenders miss; he managed only four explosive carries, two fewer than 2018 Howard, whose biggest knock was a lack of juice.
Meantime, Cohen’s nine drops paced all NFL backs and were eight more than he had two seasons ago, when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per catch (compared to 3.3 and 5.8, respectively, in 2019). Coming off his first-team All-Pro nod as a punt returner, Cohen lacked focus and discipline, as apparent off the field — where he arrived to Bourbonnais slingshot wheels screeching on the ONU sidewalk and broke NFL rules by putting post-game locker room footage from Washington unknowingly including in the background Kyle Long full frontal on social media — as on it, where Cohen too often sought sideline safety at the expense of additional yards.
Cap Commitment: Finally, some good news! The Bears are projected by spotrac at No. 27 in the NFL in RB cap expenditures in 2020, with Montgomery, Cohen and Ryan Nall accounting for only $2.42 million, or just more than 1 percent of the cap.
Offseason Need (1 lowest, 5 highest): 2. The Bears just might be set already with Nall and All-Pro returner Cordarrelle Patterson comprising a potentially solid 2A and 2B behind Montgomery — assuming Nagy is willing to utilize them — and Cohen surely motivated to rebound in a contract year. But they could still use some big-play potential, which unfortunately was poached from the practice squad by the Pittsburgh Steelers in November in the form of seventh-round rookie Kerrith Whyte.
Wait, how can one of the NFL’s worst run games be in good shape without any additions, you ask? Let’s wait and see what the Bears do at right guard and tight end, as well as how earnestly Nagy tinkers with his scheme. That’s where we expect the biggest potential improvements.
Available prospects to watch: The Bears shouldn’t be in the free-agent market for a back, but Bears Insider will highlight some late-round/UDFA prospects once draft season is off and running.