With almost $100 million in salary cap space this offseason, the Bears can inject much-needed talent into all areas of a 3-14 roster.
While some expected targets, like Daron Payne, will likely be kept off the open market via the franchise tag, the Bears should still have plenty of enticing options when free agency opens.
Javon Hargrave, Dre'Mont Jones, Mike McGlinchey, and Ben Powers should be at the top of the Bears' wishlist as general manager Ryan Poles looks to rebuild the trenches on both sides of the ball.
But another big name continues to garner interest as a potential big fish the Bears could pull in this offseason: Saquon Barkley.
After injury-riddled seasons in 2020 and 2021, Barkley reasserted himself as one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL this past season. He rushed for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns while also catching 57 balls for 338 yards.
The Giants want to bring Barkley back, but the latest reports suggest the two sides remain far apart in contract negotiations. New York has the franchise tag available, but the Giants are expected to use that on quarterback Daniel Jones if the two sides can't find common ground on a long-term extension. The Giants would like to agree to a deal with Jones by the March 7 tag deadline so they can use the tag on Barkley if necessary.
With the Giants prioritizing Jones, that leaves Barkley in limbo.
Barkley said he doesn't want to reset the market when it comes to running back contracts. But he reportedly turned down an offer worth $12.5 million annually and could be looking for a deal in the $16 million range, similar to the extension signed by Christian McCaffrey in 20220.
The Giants and Barkley could potentially find common ground in the $14 million range, but New York's roster has several holes that must be addressed. General manager Joe Schoen's stance on positional value in the NFL is well-documented, so he might not budge from his $12.5 million AAV offer.
All of that, plus a report from the New York Post that the Giants don't want to tag Barkley, suggests the star running back could hit the market where the Bears will be waiting with plenty of money to spend.
But just because you have money to spend doesn't mean you throw caution to the wind.
Poles has promised to take a disciplined approach this offseason. He knows the rebuild he faces will take more than one offseason to complete.
As it pertains to Barkley and the running back position, the Bears' first order of backfield business likely will be trying to re-sign David Montgomery. Both sides are interested in finding common ground on a long-term deal.
ProFootballFocus projects Montgomery's next contract to be three years, $19.5 million. An AAV of $6.5 million is good value for Montgomery.
But no doubt that putting Barkley alongside quarterback Justin Fields would give the Bears one of the most dangerous backfields in the NFL.
So, what's that worth?
The Bears will enter free agency needing at least three defensive linemen, two linebackers, a quality cornerback, and several offensive linemen.
Throwing a chunk of their $100 million at Barkley would be a bold decision for a team that needs to completely overhaul its roster.
However, if the Bears structure the contract correctly, Barkley's cap hit won't prohibit them from signing any of their other top targets.
Spending big money on a running back isn't in vogue in today's NFL, but Barkley is a different kind of back. Putting him alongside Fields would give the Bears a ground game with two of the league's best game-breakers. Asking defenses to choose between Fields and Barkley on read options is nightmare fuel for defensive coordinators.
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If Montgomery's contract ask checks in at $7 million AAV, and Barkley hits the market looking for around double, that's something the Bears should at least kick the tires on. Montgomery is a solid back, but Barkley, when healthy, is a superstar. His gravity will significantly impact how defenses gameplan for the Bears and make life easier for Fields in both the run and pass game.
This offseason should be all about surrounding Fields with talent so he can make another leap in Year 3 and cement himself as a franchise quarterback. The offensive line will be the Bears' priority this offseason. Talk of trading for a number one wide receiver will persist.
Superstars rarely hit the free-agent market in the NFL. The best way to get blue-chip talent is to draft or trade for it.
Barkley, due to his position, might end up being an exception to that rule.
The free-agent wide receiver class is weak, and, at the moment, no star receivers are looking to get traded. That likely will change.
But for now, Barkley is the only player whose addition will drastically alter the potency of the Bears' offense and Fields' development.
If the Bears are serious about helping Fields this offseason, Barkley might be their best bet.