David Montgomery's 2020 campaign leaves Bears comfortable at running back
David Montgomery established himself as a No. 1 running back in his second NFL season with 1,508 yards from scrimmage (1,070 rushing, 438 receiving), fourth best in the league, trailing only Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara.
Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL in Week 3 in Atlanta, missing most of the season. With a complete recovery, he is one of the more dangerous third-down backs in the game, averaging 4.2 yards a carry rushing and 7.6 yards on 203 receptions over his first three seasons prior to the knee injury.
Cordarrelle Patterson has also been a dangerous threat out of the backfield over the past two seasons.
The 2021 roster
Montgomery has two years remaining on his rookie contract, and Cohen is under contract with the Bears through the 2023 season after signing a three-year extension prior to last season, the final year on his rookie deal.
Artavis Pierce is in the second and final year of the contract he signed as an undrafted rookie free agent last year.
Pending free agents
Patterson is an unrestricted free agent after spending two seasons with the Bears on a two-year, $10 million deal.
Ryan Nall is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Bears can keep him if they tender him a new contract, or he will become unrestricted if they choose not to by the start of the new league year on March 17.
Lamar Miller was signed off the Bears practice squad by Washington prior to Week 15 and is no longer a Bear.
I don't think we've seen Montgomery's best yet. If 2020 was his breakout season, '21 could very well end at the Pro Bowl if he gets enough touches.
There is no reason Cohen shouldn't make a full recovery. His injury and surgery were early enough last season that he should be close to 100% by Week 1, but the Bears cannot continue to pretend he is a No. 2 running back.
Cohen is extremely valuable as a third-down back, but should Montgomery be forced to sit, there is no way you can confidently expect Cohen to handle 20-to-25 touches in addition to punt return duties.
The Bears say they like Pierce and have hired his college coach as the new running backs coach, Michael Pitre, but we haven't seen nearly enough of Pierce to know whether he can handle the No. 2 running back spot or is even an NFL back.
Available free agents
There is star power in Aaron Jones, Marlon Mack and Chris Carson, and Leonard Fournette finally showed signs of being a true No. 1 and probably earned himself a lot of money in the playoffs, but all will be too rich for the cap strapped Bears and are unnecessary if Montgomery is the real deal.
Jamaal Williams, Malcolm Brown, Wayne Gallman and Tevin Coleman are all 27 or younger and would all be interesting as No. 2s or partners in a two-back backfield -- roles they have all served in before.
Kenyan Drake and the oft-injured James Conner also are still young and could fit well in a tandem backfield.
The only true Day 1 prospect is Clemson's Travis Etienne.
Day 2 prospects include Alabama's Najee Harris, North Carolina's Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, Oklahoma's Rhamondre Stevenson, Memphis' Kenneth Gainwell and Buffalo's Jaret Patterson.
More likely Day 3 prospects include Oregon State's Jermar Jefferson (played for Pitre), Ohio State's Trey Sermon, Oklahoma State's Chuba Hubbard, Mississippi State's Kylin Hill, UCLA's Demetric Felton, Michigan's Chris Evans, Arkansas' Rakeem Boyd and Louisville's Javian Hawkins.
The Bears need depth and should make re-signing Patterson a priority for what he gives them on special teams, and he adds depth at running back but doesn't solve the need for a true No. 2.
If they re-sign Patterson and believe in Pierce they may stand pat here, just adding a late-round back or another undrafted rookie free agent or two.
But the offense Nagy is trying to complete has worked best in Kansas City and Philadelphia with two-back tandems. Even with Montgomery's relatively high ceiling a second back with 1B-type talent who could start if necessary or take over a game when he gets hot would be great. Drake, Connor, Williams or Coleman could be reasonably priced and fit the bill.
I'd also keep a close eye on Sermon, a tougher inside running option and Jefferson in the draft.
• Twitter: @Hub_Arkush