The Chicago Bears have started stocking their offensive fridge with better receiving weapons for quarterback Justin Fields next season, but the departure of David Montgomery from their backfield has some wondering whether they might still take a shot at making their running back stable elite for the 2023 season.
The Bears have been aggressive in their pursuit of better talent throughout the first wave of 2023 free agency, and the running back room has been one of the beneficiaries of their strategy. While Montgomery signed a three-year contract with Detroit, Chicago has locked down D’Onta Foreman to compete for primary reps with Khalil Herbert and Travis Homer to serve as quality depth alongside 2022 sixth-rounder Trestan Ebner. Realistically, it is a backfield build that could pan out nicely for the Bears.
At the same time, Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson believes there is a better fit for their backfield on the trade market, one that would bring in a proven back with a “hard-running style” into the fold behind Fields: Tennessee Titans star Derrick Henry.
Here’s what Monson said about why Henry’s best fit would be with the Bears:
Trying to find willing trade partners for a 28-year-old running back with almost 2,000 career carries and a salary cap number in excess of $16 million this season is a major challenge, but there are teams out there that could see it as the kind of move that puts them over the top. Henry is the kind of unicorn at the position that changes the rules of everything we know about running the football in the modern NFL, which could well extend to the kind of career lifespan he will have as a running back. In today’s arms race of elite teams looking to win a Super Bowl, there may be a side willing to do what would seem reckless in the past to get over the hump. Henry has averaged 3.7 yards per carry after contact for his entire career.
Derrick Henry Would Make Bears’ Backfield Elite
The legacy of Derrick Henry speaks for itself at this point. He is a two-time NFL rushing leader both in yardage and touchdowns (2019 and 2020) and a three-time Pro Bowler who is coming off his third career season with at least 1,500 rushing yards. His violent methods of power rushing have been a driving force for the Titans offense for half of a decade at this point, and he has shown very limited signs of slowing down despite finishing with an excess of 300 carries in three of his last four seasons.
Put simply, Henry is a beast who continues to dominate the modern game. And, according to NFL insider Michael Silver, the Titans are shopping him around.
The Bears would certainly be stacking the deck in Fields’ favor if they traded for Henry. He is a rushing force unlike anything the Bears have seen since the early days of Matt Forte’s career, and even then, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry is a different type of back. In tandem with Herbert, the Bears would have an excellent chance at repeating as the top rushing offense in the NFL in 2023 while also enjoying the luxury of allowing Fields to focus more on being a passer — with his new weapon D.J. Moore.
As good as it seems on paper, though, is Henry a realistic option for the Bears?
Would Henry’s Trade Cost Be Sensible for Bears?
There’s no downplaying how transformative a trade for Henry would be for the Bears’ offense, but there are reasons to doubt that he would actually be the best fit for them. For starters, the cost alone — as Monson noted — would be significant with Henry scheduled to have a cap hit of $16.367 million for the 2023 season. The Bears could fit that number on their books as things stand now, but it would limit their remaining options for both adding new talent and extending current talent for the rest of the year.
Now, the Bears could always trade for Henry and sign him to a new contract extension that would allow them to reduce his substantial cap hit for next season, but that’s only part of the problem. The other is compensation, specifically how much the Bears would have to surrender to the Titans in order to secure Henry. Tennessee might be willing to accept a mid-round pick — maybe as high as a third-rounder — for their All-Pro back since Henry is due to be an unrestricted free agent in 2024, but even that is steep for a running back who just turned 29 back in January.
Logically speaking, it is just hard to imagine Henry fitting into the Bears’ plans as they have laid them so far. If general manager Ryan Poles wanted to make a blockbuster trade for a running back, he could have made an aggressive play for either Henry or Los Angeles Chargers star Austin Ekeler — who has a standing trade request. Instead, he signed Foreman to take Montgomery’s place as Herbert’s counterpart and added another back for safe measure to round out the depth. That doesn’t sound like someone who is still looking to trade away assets for a star rusher.
But hey, at least there’s always a chance the Bears could make a run at him during the 2024 offseason if the Titans — or his next team — allow him to test free agency.