David Montgomery

Should the Bears bring Eagles running back Jordan Howard back to Chicago?

Should the Bears bring Eagles running back Jordan Howard back to Chicago?

Eagles running back Jordan Howard didn't have the contract year he was hoping for after the Bears traded him to Philadelphia for pennies on the dollar last offseason. He ended 2019 with career-lows in carries (119) and yards (525), but did achieve his second-best yards per carry average at 4.4.

Howard was victimized by a midseason shoulder injury that opened the door for Eagles rookie Miles Sanders to take the starting job. Before his injury, Howard was producing much like he did in Chicago where he became the first Bears running back to begin a career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Howard scored a touchdown in five of his final seven games last year and averaged 4.1 yards per carry in six of those seven games. He tore up the Bears in Week 9, running for 82 yards and a touchdown in an Eagles' victory.

In 2019, Howard had 123 fewer carries than Bears starter David Montgomery but still managed the same number of rushing touchdowns (6). If Howard had the same workload as Montgomery, he would have ended the year with 992 yards; Montgomery finished with 889.

RELATED: Top 30 free agents of 2020 NFL offseason

The Eagles are not expected to re-sign Howard this offseason and it's unlikely that the market for his services will be high. Considering that the Bears don't have much depth behind Montgomery with only Tarik Cohen as a change-of-pace option off the bench, it's possible that Howard's low-market value combined with Chicago's struggles to bang the ball between the tackles might make for a reunion.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace has added at least one running back in four of five offseasons. He drafted Jeremy Langford in 2015, Howard in 2016, Cohen in 2017 and Montgomery in 2019, and signed Mike Davis as a free agent last offseason. You can bet he'll draft or sign one in 2020 and it makes sense to give Howard, who already knows Matt Nagy's offense, some consideration.

The Bears could offer Howard the same deal they gave Davis last March (two years, $6 million). His history warrants that kind of pay. With Montgomery as the starter, Howard's role can be specifically designed to assist in short-yardage and goal line situations. Montgomery and Howard can even split carries if it gives the offense its most effective rushing attack.

Howard is going to follow the money this offseason. But after a down year at a position that isn't highly valued to begin with, the Bears can swoop in and bring him back at a discount.

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Bears Season in Review: David Montgomery

Bears Season in Review: David Montgomery

One of the lone bright spots from the Bears offense in 2019 was rookie running back David Montgomery, who after being selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft instantly became a fan-favorite.

Montgomery began the season as the favorite to replace Jordan Howard's lost production after the veteran was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the 2019 offseason. There was little competition for Montgomery to rise to the top of the depth chart, with only Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen standing in his path. By Week 2, Montgomery was RB1.

Unfortunately, he didn't receive much help from his offensive line. Montgomery was often met at or behind the line of scrimmage but still managed to produce at a relatively high level. He broke 47 tackles last season, a total that ranked eighth in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. 

By the time the season came to an end, Montgomery carried the ball 242 times for 889 yards and six touchdowns. His 3.7 yards per carry isn't an elite total, but when factoring the disaster that was the Bears' offensive line and passing game, it's pretty remarkable he was able to be that productive.

Montgomery didn't receive much help from the playcalling, either. He received more than 20 carries in just four games and had seven games with less than 15 rushing attempts. A running back who plays with as much physicality and aggression as Montgomery needs more touches to get rolling. He wasn't given that opportunity enough in 2019.

Still, his rookie season was a success. More will be expected from Montgomery in 2020 and a jump in production should come as Nagy builds the running game around his strengths. He should also benefit from improved play from the offensive line as an investment is expected to be made at guard in either free agency or the NFL draft.

Montgomery is one of the few players in 2019 who gave Bears fans a reason to be optimistic about the future. He has the natural ability to run for more than 1,300 yards in any given season, and that's a great thing for a franchise with as a rich of a tradition at running back as Chicago.

NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms predicts Bears will make 'splash move' in free agency

NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms predicts Bears will make 'splash move' in free agency

The Bears had a season far below expectations, ending 2019 at 8-8 amid a year that started with Super Bowl hopes. There were some positives amid the disappointing season, including the seasons of rookie running back David Montgomery and veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson. Despite the great individual performances, the Bears' offense finished 2019 ranked 29th in the NFL in points and yards per game, and 25th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage.

Translation: The Bears could use some offensive punch. 

This is a sentiment shared by NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms, who predicted the Bears will make a "huge marquee signing" this offseason.

He elaborated on the idea that the Bears are lacking a true offensive identity, and need to add an offensive weapon who makes opponents say, "We have to double him or we have to put an extra man in the box to stop that part of their running game," and helps them have an easily identifiable strength they can then build off of. 

As of now, the Bears rank in the bottom-five in terms of cap space. Fortunately for them, there are several moves they can make to free up a considerable amount of salary cap space. As far as what the Bears would do if they clear enough space to truly go big-game hunting in free agency?

The free agent wide receiver group includes names like Amari Cooper (Cowboys) and A.J. Green (Bengals) and less established names coming off of decent campaigns like Robby Anderson (Jets), Breshard Perriman (Buccaneers), Tavon Austin (Cowboys) or DeAnthony Thomas (Chiefs).

On the running back front, Kenyan Drake (Cardinals), Melvin Gordon (Chargers), Austin Ekeler (Chargers RFA) and Carlos Hyde (Texans) will be available. And, of course, Titans running back Derrick Henry — who gashed the New England Patriots for 182 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Titans' wild card upset — sits as the elite option among the 2020 NFL free agent running back group.

If Simms' prediction comes true, March will be an exciting time for Bears' faithful. Like Simms stated, teams should "watch out" for the 2020 Bears because in terms of being true, elite, contenders again, "They're not far away."

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