The most dynamic scoring weapon in the NFL over the past two seasons could soon be hitting the market, and the Chicago Bears are in a prime position to potentially get him — at least NFL analyst Cynthia Frelund believes so.
During March 13’s ‘Free Agent Frenzy’ segment of NFL Total Access, Frelund suggested the Bears could be one of the most sensible destinations for Los Angeles Chargers star running back Austin Ekeler after news broke Monday — from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport — that he had requested permission to speak to other teams about a trade.
Ekeler is set to make just $6.25 million in base salary for the 2023 season, far below the average going rate for top running backs and an especially low figure for a player who has scored more scrimmage touchdowns (38) than anyone over the past two seasons. If the Chargers decline to pay up and grant him his request, Chicago could take the chance to add another dynamic playmaker to their roster for quarterback Justin Fields.
Bears Could Lose David Montgomery to Free Agency
The Bears have made headway over the past several months toward acquiring better weapons for Fields. Back during November’s trade deadline, they traded their second-round pick (No. 32 overall) to the Pittsburgh Steelers for wide receiver Chase Claypool. Then, just last week, they flipped the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers for a massive haul of picks along with star wide receiver D.J. Moore. Between them, Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet, Fields will have better receiving targets in 2023.
Unfortunately, the Bears are also on track to lose talent from the backfield behind him. Khalil Herbert (731 yards and four touchdowns in 2022) and Trestan Ebner are both set to return in 2023, but David Montgomery has not signed a new contract and, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, “appears poised to” test free agency despite Chicago having an interest in re-signing him for 2023. If Montgomery leaves, the Bears may find themselves scouring a thin rushing market for a new veteran to pair with Herbert.
There are options for the Bears to consider before a trade. Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders, Buffalo’s Devin Singletary and Detroit’s Jamaal Williams all fit the bell of accomplished veterans who could slide right into the rotation with Herbert, but they represent the top of the market — along with Montgomery — and could all command a hefty price tag now that Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs (both franchise-tagged) won’t be available.
The Bears do have the money to sink into the running back position, if they choose, but if they are going to take a swing, why not take an Ekeler-sized swing?
Austin Ekeler Would Supercharge Bears Offense
NFL teams have a tendency to look at running backs as the most disposal of the skill-position players and, as a result, are rarely motivated to pay the ones in their late 20s a premium price for their services. Even good running backs are let go in favor of rookies and younger options when their increasing cap hits become problems for teams. But Ekeler, he’s just not the same as the typical running back.
Over the past two seasons, Ekeler has rumbled his way to 1,826 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns as a back who can blast between the tackles just as easily as he can use his speed to slip outside and exploit a lapse in coverage. He has also been just as dangerous as a pass-catcher over that span with 177 receptions for 1,369 yards and 13 touchdowns, proving to be a reliable bailout option for quarterback Justin Herbert. Whenever the ball is in Ekeler’s hands, the potential for him to score is high, and Fields could certainly use someone like that for his third season with the Bears.
The playmaking potential with Fields and Ekeler would be massive. Defenses are already having to adjust to Fields’ incredible ability with his legs, and things would only get more complicated for them if offensive coordinator Luke Getsy could start designing plays around his quarterback having an ultra-effective safety net out of the backfield. Don’t forget, Getsy got to see firsthand how the Green Bay Packers turned Aaron Jones into an elite double threat for Aaron Rodgers and would undoubtedly have a few ideas for how he could get the most out of a weapon like Ekeler.
The real question with an Ekeler-to-the-Bears scenario is how Poles feels about sinking significant resources into acquiring a 28-year-old running back. The Bears would not only have to be prepared to pay a significant contract extension to Ekeler upon a trade, but they would also have to give away some of their valuable draft assets just to get him. If the Chargers seek similar compensation to what the Carolina Panthers demanded for Christian McCaffrey — a 2023 second-, third- and fourth-round pick and a 2024 fifth-rounder — it might be far too rich of an asking price for the Bears.