The Value of David Montgomery: Volume III, Proposed Role & Contract

| February 2nd, 2023

Proposed Montgomery Role

Based on everything we’ve seen so far; we can say this about David Montgomery’s NFL profile:

That has a place on an NFL roster, but it should not be as an every down back who gets 200+ carries a year, which has been his role for the last 4 seasons. A ratio of 201 carries to 41 pass targets, like Montgomery saw in 2022, makes him a net negative for the offense, but he could be valuable if used correctly. The Bears last year insisted on using all of their running backs in an every-down situation, rotating them on a per-drive basis. The lead back (Montgomery if healthy) would play every snap for 2 drives, and then the backup would play every snap for 1 drive. This doesn’t play to either Montgomery or Herbert’s strengths, as it forces both to play in situations where they are not effective.

If the Bears insist on using both of their main backs on a per-drive basis, then they need to find a better runner than Montgomery to be their lead back. If, however, the Bears decide that they want to bring Montgomery back, they will need to reconfigure how they use their running backs. They can rotate them situationally, such that Herbert is naturally on the field in more run-heavy situations and Montgomery is naturally on the field in more pass-heavy situations, and thus use both their strengths better.

Take, for instance, this very basic situational split:

  • Khalil Herbert could play in more neutral situations that will favor the run:
    • 1st and 2nd down for the 1st 3 quarters, except the last 2 minutes of the 1st half.
    • When the Bears have a lead in the 4th quarter and are trying to run out the clock.
  • David Montgomery could play in situations that favor the passing game and short yardage runs:
    • 3rd and 4th down for the 1st 3 quarters.
    • The last 2 minutes of the 1st half.
    • When the Bears are trailing in the 4th quarter.

Using those crude filters for 2022, Herbert’s scenarios accounted for 56% of offensive snaps, with 269 running back carries vs. only 194 pass plays. Montgomery’s scenarios accounted for 44% of snaps, with only 99 running back carries vs. 241 pass plays (Quick side note: this excludes QB runs from pass plays, since they were a mixture of called passes + designed runs, but Monty’s situations included more QB runs as well – 92 vs. 76). That would maximize each players’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses without completely giving away whether the offense is running or passing based on who is on the field.

Proposed Montgomery Contract

Obviously, you can be more flexible in your substitutions than those strict criteria, but that scenario gives a general idea of how Montgomery could be used effectively. If the Bears want to try deploying him in that role – and Montgomery is willing to take what would be a drastically reduced workload – the next question becomes what a reasonable contract looks like.

To figure this out, I looked to recent NFL history. I started by looking at all running backs since 2018 who have had a season with at least 50 pass targets and fewer than 150 carries, since that is roughly the role I am arguing Montgomery should have. That gave a list of 40 seasons, with an average of 86 carries vs. 67 pass targets while playing 45% of offensive snaps. That sounds about right for Montgomery’s role, though his carries would likely be a bit higher than that.

So how much is a player like that worth? There were 10 running backs who appeared at least twice on the list. Two of them are still on rookie contracts, but the other 8 have signed 2nd deals, and the table below shows what those looked like. All salary data is from Over the Cap.

A few thoughts:

  • Most of these contracts are fairly short, which makes sense because these are not core players who you want to make a sizable long-term investment in. Three years as a contract length sounds about right, and most likely will be set up such that only the first 2 years are guaranteed.
  • The contracts are also not huge in terms of the money per year, which again makes sense. These are more high-quality role players than guys you build an offense around.
  • When looking at the money, it’s worth noting that the salary cap has gone up over the last 5 years, from $167M in 2017 to a projected $220M+ in 2023. If you extrapolate each of the deals to a 2023 cap, the average salary rises to around $6M per year.

With that in mind, I think a fair baseline for Montgomery’s contract would be something in the range of 3 years, $18M, with $10-12M fully guaranteed. I could see Montgomery bumping up to the high end of that due to his prior volume stats, perhaps pushing him to more like $21M total, but that’s roughly the range that seems fair.

I want to emphasize, though, that Montgomery’s usefulness to a team will depend entirely on how they use him. If you continue playing him 70% of the snaps and giving him 200+ carries a year, he’s a net negative to the offense regardless of how little salary cap space he’s using. If you deploy him strategically, however, to maximize his value in the passing game while minimizing his flaws as a runner, he can be a real asset. If the Bears choose to bring him back, it will be a good test of their offensive coaches’ adaptability to see if they can shift his usage to maximize his value.

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