Bears general manager Ryan Pace is never one to shy away from getting his man. After a trade up with the New England Patriots, Chicago selected former Iowa State standout running back David Montgomery at No. 73 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Montgomery joins a budding Bears offense that needed one final backfield piece to put them over the top. A balanced supporting cast which, on paper, only lacked a feature back.
Theoretically, Montgomery and his complete stature fit that goal to a tee.
Let’s grade the Bears’ trade for and subsequent selection of Montgomery at No. 73 overall.
I have no faults with Montgomery the pick. In a relatively weak draft class for running backs (which means there’s no obvious star), he was the most well-rounded and arguably the best fit for the Bears. A Super Bowl contender can’t afford to take risks on any player with limited draft resources, especially in a trade up. Whoever was going to be added to the Bears’ backfield had to be an immediate impact talent. As a patient, instinctive runner with great balance and feet, it doesn’t get any safer than Montgomery for Chicago.
From Day 1, Montgomery should step in and be a star at Halas Hall. An Eagle Scout, he’s a disciplined player that commands the attention of a room and who can act as the focal point of an offense without hesitation. In the coming days, there are going to be plenty of play style comparisons to Kareem Hunt — a player Nagy previously coached in Kansas City. In fact, that’s already the prevailing sentiment given the mentioned Nagy connection.
While I normally hate making play style comparisons to existing players because it often sets an unrealistic vision, I see more of Tiki Barber — the former three-time Giants Pro Bowl runner. A compactly built (5-foot-10, 222 pounds) but upright runner? Check. Someone lacking breakaway speed who still possesses great agility? Check. A solid but not great receiver with slightly tight hips coming out of college? Check.
Yes, Montgomery is a modern Barber and I stand by this sentiment.
As a two-year starter for the Cyclones, it’s difficult to argue with Montgomery’s stellar production. He rushed for over 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Whenever Iowa State needed to lean on their bell cow, Montgomery was up to the task. In 2017 and 2018, the Cyclones enjoyed two consecutive eight-win campaigns: The first time they’ve managed such a feat since three consecutive eight-win seasons from 1976-1978. To say the 21-year-old Montgomery was a big part of Iowa State’s uncommon success would be an understatement.
A two-time First-Team All-Big 12 selection, Montgomery is also an adept receiver out of the backfield — something the Bears were seeking after trading Jordan Howard. No longer do Nagy and company have to worry about being predictable with any back they put out onto the field. They can run any single-back set with Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and Mike Davis and have largely the same kind of offensive freedom. Never mind the formations that will have two of, or all three backs on the field at the same time. From this point moving forward, opposing defenses won’t be able to telegraph whether a play is a run or a pass simply by virtue of who is beside or behind Mitchell Trubisky. Montgomery is exactly the kind of offensive catalyst a ready-made offense needs.
To be clear, he’s an ideal catalyst for any modern offense.
A banana for a snack pack?
The only issues I have with selecting Montgomery have nothing directly to do with him.
On principle, trading up for the most replaceable football offensive position in 2019 makes little sense. There’s something to be said about Pace’s conviction in nabbing players he likes before another team ruins his front office’s draft board. Most lead executives would never be so aggressive, and it’s now the sixth time in his Bears career Pace has moved up to take someone he likes.
“He (Montgomery) was a player we identified on the board where that magnet’s sticking out and where we value him,” Pace said at a press conference at Halas Hall Friday night. “We operate with a no regrets mindset, so let’s go ahead and move up and acquire this player at that point.”
Pace’s “no regrets” thought process doesn’t mean making move for a running back with minimal draft capital any less shortsighted. When you trade the farm for Khalil Mack — your best player at a crucial position, and the main reason you’re a championship contender — it’s palatable. When you trade multiple mid-round draft selections for a running back — the arguable least important and most replaceable position, in addition to tapping into a 2020 draft that was looking loaded with picks for the future — you’re risking sacrificing the coffers of needed depth.
If anything, making an aggressive move for Montgomery is the Bears pushing their chips in even more on the prospects of a Super Bowl or bust 2019 season: A slippery slope to play around with in any professional sport.
It’s understandable the Bears are in win-now mode. Championship windows come and go so fast in such a brutal game. If you don’t take advantage of your roster at its peak, you may regret it. But well-run NFL franchises are capable of keeping their eye on the prize while finding ways to keep the gravy train rolling at the same time. They can have their cake and eat it too because they’re smart enough to see they can. They’re not looking for a few great seasons, a couple of deep playoff runs, and an ensuing rebuild. They want as many tickets to the dance as possible. When an opportunity presents itself to acquire more future assets, particularly in the draft, they grab it with aplomb. They’re not sacrificing mid-round selections willy-nilly because they’re so dead-set on one player — let alone a very replaceable running back where there were plenty of options available later on. (The Patriots traded down and took one in Damien Harris with the Bears’ pick at No. 87 overall.)
This isn’t to say the Bears are sacrificing their future because they traded a few mid-round picks. The point value on draft charts for the deal is also largely even. It’s more of the short-term ends not justifying the long-term means. Come the conclusion of the 2020 season (and an eventual lockout), the Bears are going to be faced with an abundance of decisions once many of their currently rostered and crucial players are out of contract or need extensions. Realistically, they’ll be facing down a grueling rebuild. Now I’m sure Pace fancies himself a modern football version of Niccolò Machiavelli. Who wouldn’t want to get into some classic Renaissance literature? But there’s a reason there’s often a negative connotation surrounding the famed Italian’s philosophies. The process matters as much as the outcome.
If the Bears keep casually giving up mid-round picks — the overlooked and cheap contract cornerstones of any good team — their process to rise back up as a hopeful Super Bowl contender is going to be far more difficult. You can’t keep leaning on “Well, none of this matters if Trubisky develops into a superstar. Because then he can carry them.” Quarterback is inarguably football’s most important position, but this is and always will be a team game. A star quarterback is capable of lifting a mediocre supporting cast, but then that’s not a contender to be feared if he doesn’t play well. There’s more to the Bears being a consistently good playoff team beyond 2019-2020 than Trubisky — one man with all the pressure in the world — lighting the NFL on fire.
Chances are this trade up for Montgomery doesn’t end up hurting the Bears too much, at least in the short term. But the continual process and evolution in making it happen is disconcerting with what soon lies ahead.
In the meantime, if the Bears and Nagy can make a back-by-committee work with Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and free agent signing Mike Davis, the next two seasons should be electric with Chicago’s version of “Run-D.M.C.” There’s no denying Montgomery’s talent as the missing offensive piece. Now the ball just has to be spread around well in the Bears’ offense to make the arrangement work.
A Super Bowl victory could depend on it.
How would you grade the Bears’ selection of David Montgomery?
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