Bears RB David Montgomery enters contract season with opportunity for breakout year

David Montgomery was 10th in the NFL in yards after contact and scored seven rushing touchdowns last year, but he'll look to build on those numbers as he looks toward the future. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus has a penchant for acronyms. He has one for on-field execution -- HITS (hustle, intensity, takeaways and (playing) smart) -- and he has one for the traits of the players he hopes to have on the roster.

The latter is referred to as M&M. Having a great motor and being mean are qualities Eberflus expects from his offensive and defensive linemen. But as the first-year head coach started to learn more about his personnel this offseason, he extended that classification to include running back David Montgomery.

“Talk about motor and mean, yeah, he is that guy,” Eberflus said. “Serious, a pro, worker -- he’s going to be exciting to work with, and he’s going to fit right in. He’s the kind of guy who just says, ‘Hey, watch me go. I’m not going to say a whole bunch of things, but just watch me do my job.’”

There’s a lot on the line for Montgomery, who is entering the final season of his four-year rookie deal. If the Bears don’t extend him during the season, they’ll have exclusive negotiating rights until the league year begins in March 2023, after which he would become an unrestricted free agent.

Chicago traded up to draft Montgomery in the third round in 2019 out of Iowa State. He has developed into a dependable ball-carrier. He ranks eighth among running backs in rushing yards (2,808) since 2019.

Josh Jacobs, whom the Las Vegas Raiders drafted in the first round in 2019, ranks fifth (3,087 yards). The Raiders declined to pick up Jacobs’ fifth-year option, which is offered only to first-rounders. That means if the Raiders don’t extend him before the 2023 NFL league year begins, Jacobs will become an unrestricted free agent.

“At the end of the day, whether I’m going into my second year or my first year, I’ve still got to play football, and I still gotta perform,” Montgomery said in April. “I could really care less about contracts, the contract terms and things, but I’m excited to be here for another year and play with my guys too.”

Montgomery has accounted for 24.4% of Chicago’s scrimmage yards since 2019, which is the seventh-most in the NFL over that span.

“The thing I like about David is he doesn't feel like he's arrived yet,” Walker said. “Some of the guys that have been in the league for a while think they have arrived. He's trying to learn from his standpoint.

“I believe I'm [the third coach] in four seasons for him, so he's had to really learn every offseason something different and new. He's doing a good job with it. But I really like his makeup in terms of wanting to get better, pushing himself to get better. He has high standards, and we are going to do everything we can to reach those standards on a daily basis."

In addition to Montgomery, Chicago’s running back room includes Khalil Herbert, Darrynton Evans, rookie sixth-rounder Trestan Ebner and undrafted free agent De’Montre Tuggle. The Bears also added fullback Khari Blasingame in free agency.

The way Chicago will divide responsibilities in the run game with Luke Getsy, a former Packers assistant, as offensive coordinator may look similar to how Green Bay operated with its backs the past three seasons. Aaron Jones carried the load as an every-down threat and AJ Dillon provided short-yardage work.

Montgomery assumed the role of lead back in 2020 after Tarik Cohen tore his right ACL three games into the season. He rushed for 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns that season and followed that up with 849 yards and seven TDs last season, despite missing four games because of injury.

Montgomery also has developed into a dependable pass-catcher with 96 receptions over the past two seasons.

“We're going to stress those [running backs] and stretch their role, meaning can he run the whole gamut of the passing tree? Which, you know, it looks like he can,” Eberflus said of Montgomery. “Can he beat guys one-on-one consistently? Is it a safety or a linebacker that's covering him? It's a positive … if he can beat all those guys -- DBs and linebackers -- and we feel he has the skill set to do that.”

He has also proved to be difficult to bring down. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 429 of Montgomery’s 849 rushing yards (51%) in 2021 came after first contact, the 10th most in the NFL last season.

The Bears break for the summer following mandatory minicamp that runs from Tuesday through Thursday. Though it’s difficult to tell what the run game will look like until Chicago is able to have full contact in training camp, the early returns have been positive.

“It's hard to really do the run game how you want to do it and how it should be looking in a game right now without pads on, but you can see where this run game can go with the outside zone,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “And the running backs we've got with David, Khalil and all the other kids that we brought in, we're all excited to get to camp so we can really put the run game to the test and start really building upon it.”