As expected, the Chicago Bears cleaned house after the end of the 2021 regular season, parting ways with both general manager Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy. The on-field results didn't always present themselves on the field, and personnel decisions were head-scratching at times.
So now the team is moving forward in a different direction. Ryan Poles, who was previously the Kansas City Chiefs' executive director of player personnel, was hired as the new general manager on Jan. 25. Shortly after that, Poles hired former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to be the team's new head coach.
The Bears have 24 pending unrestricted free agents on their roster (per Spotrac.com) and also have some decisions to make about veteran players that are under contract. It'll be the job of the new front office and coaching staff to decide which players will be a part of the rebuilding effort.
One thing that will need to be sorted out is the slight logjam at running back. The Bears only have one pending free agent at this position, and there's backfield talent throughout the depth chart. Chicago ranked 14th in rushing offense in 2021 at 118.7 yards per game, but it has the personnel to be much better in this department.
Here is what the Bears' running back room looks like heading into the offseason...
The 73rd overall pick from the 2019 draft was once again the Bears' leader and the workhorse in the backfield. In 13 games, Montgomery ran for 849 yards (3.8 ypc) and seven touchdowns. Although he only posted two 100-yard games, he did add 301 receiving yards, which was 22nd among running backs. He could have had much higher numbers had it not been for a knee injury that caused him to miss four games, a lack of support from the offensive line (and the rest of the offense in general), and questionable play-calling that often abandoned or at least ignored the run.
If he had stayed healthy, Montgomery probably would have posted his second straight 1,000-yard season. As it were, he would up 17th in the NFL in rushing and was ninth in carries (225 or 17.3 per game). The new coaching staff, particularly first-time offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, would be wise to involve more of the running game, and more of Montgomery period, into the game plan. That would help take pressure off of quarterback Justin Fields and the passing attack.
The former Dolphin (2014-17) Chief ('18-19) is a pending free agent but it would be wise for the Bears to try and re-sign him. Williams only played in eight games but he was pretty heavily involved when he was on the field. He posted 267 yards from scrimmage with three total touchdowns but could be a valuable depth piece, especially considering David Montgomery missed four games this past season with a knee injury. Williams' status with the team could be connected to Tarik Cohen's progress in his return from a torn ACL (see below).
The sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech certainly made the most of his chances in 2021. Herbert had some production as a rookie and he was the only running back to appear in all 17 games. He finished the season with 1,179 all-purpose yards and he scored two touchdowns.
Herbert was used somewhat similar to Tarik Cohen when he was healthy, as a rusher, receiver and on special teams. He led the team by averaging 4.2 yards per carry and was valuable in both the passing game (6.9 ypr) and as a kick returner (24.1 ypr). It'll be interesting to see how his role changes under the new coaching staff.
After appearing in all 16 games two seasons ago, Nall spent more time on the practice squad in 2021 but ended up playing in nine games. His value to the team extends beyond what shows up in the box score. A core special-teamer, Nall also has been used as a fullback, has caught a few passes out of the backfield, and been called on to return kicks. The new administration and coaching staff will have to decide whether they want to keep Nall around or give him a chance to latch on with another team.
"The Human Joystick" tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2020 season, and it was widely expected that he would recover in time for the 2021 campaign. But after spending all of the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season on the PUP list, it was clear that his recovery wasn't going as planned. The team never elaborated on his status, and Cohen didn't see the field this past season. His participation during the upcoming offseason programs will be something to keep an eye on.
Cohen's versatility (4,311 all-purpose yards, 17 total career TDs) is very valuable to the Bears' offense, but only if he's back to 100 percent. If he's healthy, there's no doubt the coaching staff will find a way to utilize his unique skill set.
Assuming Cohen gets a clean bill of health, it appears that Chicago is in pretty good shape at running back. A decision will need to make regarding Williams, but he could be replaced by a free agent or the Bears could choose to go younger and take someone in the upcoming draft.
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.