The NFL will not delay the start of its new league year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning free agency will proceed as planned this week.
The NFL’s negotiating window — otherwise known as the “legal tampering” period — is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. CT on Monday, and the new league year will commence at 3 p.m. CT Wednesday.
There had been speculation the NFL would delay the start of its league year and free agent period over concerns of the spread of COVID-19. Some teams, including the Bears, temporarily closed their facilities last week and suspended all business travel.
A few big moves did trickle out on Sunday following the NFLPA's ratification of the new CBA. The Tennessee Titans signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a four-year, $118 million deal; Colts left tackle Anthony Castanzo re-upped in Indianapolis for two years and $33 million; and the Baltimore Ravens shipped a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for defensive end Calais Campbell (that trade won't be official until the start of the new league year).
For the Bears, this means they'll proceed in free agency as usual, and may need to make some decisions quickly (like whether or not to retain Leonard Floyd) to free up cap space for this week's free agency frenzy.
The Bears have high expectations for second-year running back David Montgomery entering the 2020 NFL season. General manager Ryan Pace didn't invest any draft picks or free-agent money into running backs this offseason which means the Bears' running game will depend heavily on the former Iowa State star.
There's also Tarik Cohen, who's entering the final year of his rookie contract. The 'offensive weapon' who's become more of a receiver than runner as a pro should have his fair share of opportunities to make plays too.
But will the combination of Montgomery and Cohen strike fear in opposing defenses this season?
According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's recent ranking of every team's running backs, the answer is no. Chicago's backfield was ranked 27th.
Miller used a composite grading system for each running back that reads similar to what fans of the Madden video game franchise are used to. Montgomery scored a 77. Cohen garnered a 74.
To put their grades into perspective, Christian McCaffrey was given a 99 while Ezekiel Elliott scored a 95.
Is it fair to question whether the Bears' running game will be productive in 2020? Yes, it is. Let's face it, Montgomery is still relatively unproven after failing to crack 900 rushing yards as a rookie, and Cohen has carved out more or a reputation as a quality punt returner than a consistent threat as a running back so far in his career.
There's still reason for optimism in Chicago, however. Montgomery flashed tackle-breaking upside in 2019, and if the Bears' offensive line improves its run-blocking in 2020, Montgomery will be one of the more productive running backs in the NFC.
Until then, Chicago's backfield has a long way to go to live up to the rich tradition of running backs who called Soldier Field home.
Many Bears fans already know the toll that Kevin White's injuries took on him physically. Leg breaks, hamstring tears, and shoulder fractures all contributed mightily to White's underwhelming time in Chicago, but the lesser known side of things centers on the emotional toll those injuries took. Talking with our Bears Insider JJ Stankevitz, White went into detail about what it was like for him to be living through that:
It was hard. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. It was hard because I love the game so much and want to be great so bad and did the right things, be a good person — forget about football, I try to be a super good person. And it was just like oh my gosh, when am I going to get my chance or my turn? Or when am I going to be like, oh my gosh I got through it and now I’m with this team or got this contract and I was able to score the winning touchdown or whatever. So I just kept thinking that’s gonna come, it’s gonna come, it has to happen. Just stay the course, keep fighting, keep battling. You got the talent, just stay healthy so we can show it. So that’s what every day kept me going.
... Like, you don’t understand what that player has to go through day in, day out. Even sleeping, it’s hard to sleep because your mind is like, I’m ready to play, I wanna go. Your body is like, no shot. So you gotta sleep on that. Then you get kind of bored, or sometimes you know what the media’s saying, fans are saying, it kind of gets you like, I’m gonna go out there and run a route. I want to be able to do it right now. Like I want to be able to do it now. So you gotta be able to deal with that mentally. Physically, your body’s not ready, so you gotta do treatment and extra things every single day. You don’t just go in for treatment from 9 to 11 and then you’re done for the day. That’s not it. It’s an every day battle, mentally and physically.
It's fascinating – not to mention a bit heartbreaking – to get such a first-hand account of what failure in the NFL feels like. You can listen to the entire interview on the latest episode of the Under Center Podcast: