David Montgomery has one last game as Bears’ bell cow

It took David Montgomery two games to become the Bears’ bell-cow running back. Sunday might be the last time it happens.

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Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears

Bears running back David Montgomery breaks a tackle against the Packers earlier this month.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It took David Montgomery two games to become the Bears’ bell-cow running back.

Sunday might be the last time it happens.

Then-general manager Ryan Pace traded up in the third round of the 2019 draft to take Montgomery No. 73 overall, even though the Bears had Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on their roster.

“We envision a scenario where they’re all contributing in different areas,” Pace said then.

In the 2019 season opener, a home loss to the Packers, Montgomery ran six times. Davis, with five rushes, was the only other running back to carry the ball. The next week, though, Montgomery took 18 handoffs in a win in Denver. The rest of the running backs totaled seven.

Less than two months later, the Bears cut Davis. Cohen averaged only four carries per game throughout 2019.

Montgomery didn’t look back. From 2019 to 2021, only five players in the league carried the ball more than he did — the Titans’ Derrick Henry, the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott, the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs and the Browns’ Nick Chubb. They have 12 Pro Bowls among them; Montgomery has none.

This year, the Bears began to rotate Montgomery with second-year player Khalil Herbert. Before he hurt his hip, Herbert was by far the more successful side of the Bears’ platoon. He still leads all NFL running backs with six yards per carry. Quarterback Justin Fields leads all rushers with 7.1.

Next week, Herbert is expected to return from injured reserve after missing four games. That leaves Montgomery, whose contract is up at the end of the season, with at least one more game as the Bears’ main running back Sunday against the Eagles. That means one last big chance to show potential free-agent suitors what he can do.

When Herbert got hurt returning a kick toward the end of the loss to the Lions, Montgomery was averaging 12.8 carries per game. In the three games without Herbert, Montgomery has averaged 15.

“Yeah, he’s just a worker,” coach Matt Eberflus said Friday. “He really is a worker. . . . He’s used to doing that. He’s a strong kid — strong-minded and strong physically. He’s willing and able to do that.”

On an offense that will be missing wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool as well as Herbert, Montgomery will be needed more than ever. Fields only has so many reliable players left.

Pro Football Focus rates the Eagles’ pass defense as the NFL’s best — and their run defense as the 11th-best. The Bears figure to keep the ball on the ground — and in Montgomery’s hands — to stay out of obvious passing downs. He’ll need to have better success than he has had in a ho-hum season. Despite playing in the league’s best rushing offense, Montgomery’s four yards per carry ranks 37th in the NFL.

Montgomery sat out of practice Thursday with an illness but returned Friday as a full participant.

“Didn’t miss a beat,” Eberflus said. “He was running out there and looked powerful, looked strong, got all the plays down. He was good that way.”

The Bears rarely have to worry about him. But that doesn’t necessarily make a contract extension the right move.

Before the season, Spotrac.com predicted Montgomery would get about $13 million per season over four years on the open market. That number has shrunk to a $9.7 million average annual value over three.

Montgomery has said all year that he’s not worried about his next deal, even though he knows what’s at stake. Flush with money, the Bears might decide to bring him back to share time with Herbert. Even if they do, though, the days of Montgomery having the Bears’ running back position all to himself are over — after Sunday.

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