Red Grange. Bronko Nagurski. Gale Sayers. Walter Payton.
Running back and Chicago Bears goes together like salt and pepper.
So as NFL offenses evolve and are growing to have a better understanding as to where to invest cash and draft capital into certain positions, it may run counter to what NFL history has shown for this particular franchise.
Ryan Pace started the evolution when he chose not to keep popular back Matt Forte. He didn’t pay him big bucks and drafted Jeremy Langford the first year and Jordan Howard the following year. Langford didn’t pan out, and then once it was time to move on from Howard, he moved him to the Eagles for a sixth round pick. After having Howard as his primary runner for three years, Pace moved him for a sixth rounder, just one round lower than he drafted him originally. Well done.
But then Pace panicked. He needed a running back in 2019, they wanted David Montgomery but in order to grab him, he traded up giving up a future 4th round pick to do it. While Pace recognized drafting running backs on Thursday night isn’t usually the best plan for building a team, he fell into his usual trap of trading up and forfeiting future draft capital to get his guy.
Enter Ryan Poles.
We hadn’t seen much prior to this offseason as to how Poles valued the running back position other than him taking a late flier on Trestan Ebner who, after one season, appears to not be factoring into their future plans.
It’s always wise to take chances on day three running backs, even in the late rounds, there is talent to be found there.
But how Poles handled the running back position this year should give all Bears’ fans hope that Poles truly understands draft and positional value.
It started in free agency when he chose to let the popular David Montgomery go and replace him with D’Onta Foreman. So at this point, Poles lands a running back that, in a vacuum, would have similar productivity to Montgomery but lands him for half the yearly cash ($6 million for Montgomery and $3 million for Foreman) and $8 million less in guarantees ($9 million to $1 million).
But then Poles took it up a notch on draft day landing Roschon Johnson in the fourth round of the draft. If you just compare the Johnson pick to the Montgomery pick, the Bears landed a running back that projects similar to Montgomery (but has a high ceiling to be potentially even better), but landed him, not only one round later, but traded back and landed a 5th round pick in the process.
That’s how you do it. You gain capital and still draft a running back that should land you immediate returns.
Had the Bears signed Montgomery to that deal, they probably wouldn’t have been on Johnson due to their similarities and the fact that Montgomery would be on the Bears for at least two more seasons.
In 2023, the Bears will have Roschon Johnson, Khalil Herbert, Travis Homer and D’Onta Foreman for a total contractual value of approximately 9 years for $13 million with $3 million guaranteed. Plus, they also have CB Terell Smith that they selected with the pick they received from the New Orleans Saints when they traded down in round four.
Had they paid Montgomery the same deal, they would have Montgomery, Herbert and Homer for 7 years for $23 million with $11 million guaranteed.
So with the moves he made, Ryan Poles has two additional years of running back control for almost half the value of the total contracts and $8 million less guaranteed. Plus, in my opinion, he upgraded the room.
Bears fans, those type of wise maneuvers is how you make a Super Bowl-caliber team.