Now there are two premier running backs available.
And the Bears have a need for just one.
The Jacksonville Jaguars cut Leonard Fournette on Monday as they continue to try to revamp their entire team, and at the same time the Bears have one of the thinnest running back groups in the NFL.
With David Montgomery down a reported 2-4 weeks, the Bears have the ability to sign a top player who isn't in a position to break anyone's bank this season.
Fournette had his best NFL season in 2019 with 1,152 yards on 265 carries. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry, far better than his 3.9 as a rookie and 3.3 in 2018.
Fournette also has one other quality Bears coach Matt Nagy covets in a back and that's 76 receptions in 2019. He had made 36 as a rookie and 22 in 2018, when he missed half the season with hamstring and ankle issues.
There isn't much Fournette lacks as a back. He even has an ability to make tacklers miss, although he's not a back who necessarily runs well laterally.
Fournette has tremendous straight-line speed and power to break tackles but is not a shifty broken-field runner per se. Still, he has some moves and is a tremendous breakaway threat, who has had 90- and 81-yard touchdown runs.
The Bears have only Ryan Nall, rookie Artavis Pierce, third-down back Tarik Cohen and converted wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in their running game without Montgomery. They also just signed Napoleon Maxwell back to the roster and put defensive back Michael Joseph on injured reserve. Maxwell was their undrafted rookie who was cut earlier in the month.
Fournette is 6-foot, 228 pounds and far more of a durable, devastating runner than former Falcons back Devonta Freeman, the other top back on the free agent market. At 25 years old, he has far more upside since he's 3 years younger than Freeman, who is 206 pounds.
On the down side, with Jacksonville, Fournette's behavior had been classified as selfish or negative toward teammates or the coaching staff and management. He was once called "disrespectful" and "selfish" by team executive vice president Tom Coughlin. In 2018 Fournette was suspended one game for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Last year the Jaguars voided the remaining guaranteed money on Fournette’s rookie contract signed before 2017. It gave them the opportunity to dump him without paying the $7.1 million he was owed on the contract he signed after Jacksonville had drafted him fourth overall in 2017.
If the Bears felt Montgomery would be missing for half the season, then making a move to sign the former LSU back would be a no-brainer. As it is, the attitude situation has to be considered.
Because of their plight, Fournette might not even be able to help them much for the opener and Montgomery should be available not much longer afterward. But there would be time to get Fournette at least functional in the offense and running back is one position where players with limited knowledge of an offense can function well.
This is a back with 4.51-second speed in the 40-yard dash who has reportedly squatted 600 pounds.
The Bears had a need for a running back even before Montgomery suffered an injury. Now the need is far greater There's no guarantee the way they plan to use Patterson will even work, and Fournette can share carries with Montgomery in a way few other running backs can. And Nagy was said by GM Ryan Pace to covet this backfield-by-committee approach at the combine in 2019 before they drafted Montgomery.
Nall has two NFL carries and Pierce is a rookie, so those two are barely above practice squad level.
In the last year the Packers with Aaron Jones, the Vikings with Dalvin Cook and the Lions now with D'Andre Swift have elevated their running attacks past the Bears. The Bears have the worst rushing attack in the NFC North.
The talent level with Fournette is far too great for a team with a running back need to ignore. At the very least, the Bears need to bring him to Halas Hall and talk to his agent.
The attitude and "locker room cancer" type of talk might be scary, but Nagy has called his team close and unified through the offseason racial strife and also the challenge of COVID-19. Surely a player with such talent and supposed attitude problems can be turned around by a group of players who are said to have such focus and sense of team.
In 2018 the Bears made a move just as training camp ended which sparked the team to the division title. Of course, it was bringing in Khalil Mack. This is the type of move that could do the same because it can affect so many other aspects of the team to have a weapon with this potential.
It's rare to have a chance to sign a back of this level, and if they can get him at a reasonable contract it would be a welcome addition who gives defenses something else entirely to worry about on each play.