David Montgomery

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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David Montgomery was one of NFL's top-50 rookies of 2019

David Montgomery was one of NFL's top-50 rookies of 2019

When the Bears drafted David Montgomery in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the selection was viewed as a perfect marriage between his skill set and Matt Nagy's offense. Montgomery was expected to do for the Bears what Kareem Hunt did for Nagy and the Chiefs when Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017.

No, Montgomery didn't have the kind of statistical success that Hunt enjoyed that year, but he did have a productive first season that has his arrow clearly pointing up.

Montgomery ended 2019 with 242 carries for 889 yards and six touchdowns, including two 100-yard games and a season-finale performance against the Vikings that totaled 113 yards and a score.

At first glance, Montgomery's 3.7 yards per carry isn't an elite number, but he earned every inch of his production over 16 games. He finished the season eighth in the league with 47 broken tackles and ranked in Pro Football Focus' top-50 rookies of 2019.

37. RB DAVID MONTGOMERY, CHICAGO BEARS

The former Iowa State Cyclone broke 47 tackles on rushing attempts this year, the eighth-most among running backs. Despite this, it really wasn’t the best decision to trade up for him in the NFL draft considering the positional value and lack of breakaway runs (only 15.0% of his carries went for 15 or more yards in 2019, 45th among 50 qualifying backs).

The Bears are entering the 2020 offseason with needs to fill along the offensive line, and there's an argument to be made whether the need is stronger at offensive tackle or guard. The fact this debate even exists is proof of how much the offensive line struggled in 2019, which further illustrates just how encouraging Montgomery's year was.

Chicago's offense will be a focal point of GM Ryan Pace and Nagy over the next several months. A quarterback competition is likely, and a new starter or two along the offensive line is possible.

The good news? The Bears have Montgomery, and he's the kind of hard-working, high-character talent the team can build their running game around.

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Bears Grades: Offense underachieves at nearly every position in 2019

Bears Grades: Offense underachieves at nearly every position in 2019

The Bears' 2019 season is over, which means it's time to take a look at how each position group performed in their massively disappointing 8-8 campaign. 

In Part 1 of our Season Grades, we take a look at the offense. Check out Part 2 (defense) here.

Quarterbacks: D-

If it wasn't for brief and fleeting moments of exciting play by Mitch Trubisky, his 2019 season would warrant an 'F.' But he did stack a promising sequence of games together in Weeks 13 and 14 against the Lions and Cowboys that felt as if the light finally went on for him. Unfortunately, it didn't last long.

Trubisky's second year with Matt Nagy and third with the Bears ended as disappointing as the team's overall season. And if it wasn't for the defense keeping games close, Trubisky wouldn't have the luxury of saying he quarterbacked an 8-8 team. It would've been a lot worse than that.

Trubisky's final stat line of 3,138 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (63.2% completion rate, 6.1 yards per attempt) represents a statistical regression across the board. The same is true for his rushing totals; he had just 193 yards and two scores on the ground, down from 421 yards and three touchdowns.

The offensive line and coach Matt Nagy's play-calling took their fair share of the blame throughout the season, but Trubisky is responsible for much of his 2019 failures. His mechanics were flawed, his passes sailed off target, his reads were slow and he simply appeared overmatched and underprepared for life as an NFL quarterback.

Running Backs: C

David Montgomery's rookie season was a strong showcase of his potential, but it wasn't consistently good. He ended the year with 889 yards and six touchdowns (3.7 yards per carry) and finished the season strong with over 100 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings in Week 17.

There were times, however, that he made one cut too many in the backfield. Montgomery admitted Sunday after the Bears' win that his rookie season wasn't good enough.

That said, Montgomery provided plenty of evidence in 2019 that he can be the centerpiece not only of Chicago's rushing attack but of the offense as a whole. His vision and feel for the flow of the running game are top-notch. He just needs holes to run through. Week 17 was proof of how productive he can be when the offensive line blocks well.

After Montgomery, the Bears' running backs were non-existent. Tarik Cohen contributed just 213 rushing yards (3.3 yards per carry) and was miscast in the offense all season. And while he did end the year with 79 catches, he turned them into just 456 yards. His rushing yards dropped by 50% and his receiving totals weren't far behind.

It was a bad all-around year for a player who is supposed to be one of the most dynamic weapons the Bears' offense possesses.

Wide Receivers: B

It was the Allen Robinson show in 2019. The veteran wideout finished with 98 catches for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns; his 98 catches rank as the fifth-best total in franchise history.

If the Bears pass-catchers were graded on Robinson's performance alone, they'd receive an A+. Unfortunately, we can't do that, so despite Robinson's dominant year, there were some weaknesses from this group.

Anthony Miller, who started the season with big expectations after a promising rookie year in 2018, took what felt like forever to get going in 2019. Whether it was his practice habits, lack of understanding of the offense or failure to pay attention to detail, he struggled to get opportunities to make plays. He had just eight catches through the first five games of the season.

Miller's targets steadily increased from Week 5 on and he managed to salvage his season by finishing with 52 catches for 656 yards and two scores. His receptions and yardage totals were improvements from his rookie year, but he needs to become a more reliable player in order to reach his yet-to-be-tapped potential.

Veteran Taylor Gabriel's injury-riddled campaign ended with 29 catches for 353 yards and four touchdowns, and with the exception of his 75-yard, three-touchdown game against the Redskins in Week 3, was otherwise pedestrian when he played. Gabriel is a prime candidate to be released this offseason so the Bears can free-up $4.5 million in cap space for 2020.

The Bears didn't receive much production from youngsters Javon Wims or Riley Ridley in 2019, but Ridley's three-catch, 54-yard game against the Vikings in Week 17 gives him a boost of momentum heading into the offseason. 

Tight Ends: F

Aside from Trubisky, the Bears' tight end group was the biggest disappointment on offense in 2019. There was so little production from the position that it's difficult to even grade them. 

Trey Burton, who's being paid over $8.5 million per season to be Chicago's Travis Kelce, had just 14 catches for 84 yards and zero touchdowns. Granted, he was banged up all year and only appeared in eight games, but regardless, he was simply terrible. Burton had the second-lowest grade of any Bears player on offense this season, via Pro Football Focus.

If it wasn't for the late-season emergence of unheralded veteran J.P Holtz, this team's tight end situation would've been the laughing stock of the league. Former second-round pick Adam Shaheen had nine catches for 74 yards in the eight games he suited up for. His time in Chicago is up. 

Holtz and undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted provided a little life to the passing game late in the year as the duo combined for 15 catches, 178 yards and a touchdown over the last month or so of the season.

Pace has failed miserably in his construction of the tight end depth chart and it must be one of the team's top priorities this offseason. 

Offensive Line: D

If there was one position group that began the 2019 season with confidence, it was the Bears' offensive line. All five starters -- Charles Leno (LT), Cody Whitehair (LG), James Daniels (C), Kyle Long (RG) and Bobby Massie (RT) -- were back and were considered one of the better starting-fives in the NFL.

What followed was another injury-plagued season for Long that lasted only four games, a position swap between Whitehair and Daniels that sent Whitehair back to center and Daniels to left guard, and the insertion of defensive lineman-turned-offensive guard Rashaad Coward into the starting lineup.

Even Leno, who's been the model of consistency for the Bears over the last five years, struggled through the second-worst season of his career, per Pro Football Focus' grades. And then there's Massie, who had the worst season of his career based on PFF's scoring.

So, yeah, it was a really bad year from this group, but they're still talented enough to expect a rebound in 2020. 

Daniels is only 22 years old and Whitehair has proven his value as an extremely important interior player since being selected in the second round in 2016. The biggest hole that needs to be filled is at right guard. An upgrade over Coward is needed, and with Long's expected departure this offseason, the Bears have to find a veteran in free agency or a rookie in the draft that they can plug and play in Week 1 next fall.

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