Saquon Barkley's contract demand should determine Bears' interest

Saquon's contract ask should determine Bears' free-agent interest originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Bears general manager Ryan Poles is about to walk into a critical offseason with a heavy wallet and a lot of holes to fill.

The Bears will have over $100 million in salary cap room this offseason. But free agency in the NFL isn't like the NBA or MLB. Great players rarely make it to the open market, and fortunes rarely are changed by expensive spending sprees.

Poles vowed to be disciplined in his end-of-season press conference. He knows the rebuild he's facing will take more than one offseason to complete, and being loose with money could hamper his grand plan.

The upcoming free-agent class also isn't anything to write home about. While Daron Payne, Javon Hargrave, and Orlando Brown Jr. would fill clear needs for the Bears, another big name naturally has Bears fans intrigued.

Saquon Barkley.

The star running back has said he wants to remain a Giant and isn't looking to reset the running back market with a new deal.

"I'm realistic. I know what I was on pace to do. But having two years filled up with injuries and having a season not performing to the level that I know I can perform doesn't help," Barkley said after the Giants' playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. "But I think I was able to show the type of caliber a player I am — the things I am able to do on a football field. That is something I wanted to do. That was my goal. I was able to accomplish that."

Christian McCaffrey is the NFL's highest-paid running back after signing a four-year contract extension with the Carolina Panthers that pays him an average of $16 million annually.

The Giants attempted to sign Barkley to an extension during the season, but the two sides could not reach a deal. New York's reported offer came in at $12 million a season. FOX Sports' Ralph Vacchiano reported Barkley is looking for a McCaffrey-type deal. The Giants also could franchise tag Barkely for around $10.1 million next season if they can't get a long-term deal done.

From the Bears' perspective, they should not break the bank to land Barkley. I understand the thought of a Justin Fields-Barkley backfield is enticing, but the Bears have too many needs to spend big on a running back.

Running back David Montgomery also will be a free agent this offseason. Montgomery is a popular member of the Bears' locker room. He epitomizes how Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus want these Bears to play and will command less than Barkley on the open market.

The Bears should and likely will either re-sign Montgomery or look to draft a running back on Day 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft to pair with Khalil Herbert. That's the smart way to build a roster, electing to save the big money for premium positions.

But what if the Bears want to make at least one splash and miss out on their top targets? Barkley would certainly create buzz, and his actual contract demands should determine whether or not the Bears get involved.

If Barkley wants McCaffrey-type money, it should be a quick no for the Bears. But if Barkley lowers his price, the Bears could at least entertain the idea of putting together the most dynamic backfield in the NFL.

There are currently eight running backs in the NFL that average $12 million or more per season in salary. Those contracts average about $13.1 million per season. Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, and Alvin Kamara are among the backs in that class.

Barkley, given his production this past season, belongs in that class. If the soon-to-be 26-year-old wants a deal in that $12-13 million range, the Bears should at least kick the tires. That's fair value for a guy who would give the Bears a dynamic offensive weapon they desperately need.

If the goal is to help Fields develop, surrounding him with as much talent as possible should be the goal. Adding Barkley would undoubtedly raise the floor and ceiling of the Bears' offense.

Money talks. If the number is right, that dialogue should take place between the Bears and Barkley.

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But Barkley's ask won't be the only number to consider. Montgomery and the other alternatives also have to be taken into account.

Spotrac estimates Barkley's market value to be $12.3 million a year. It has Montgomery at $7.2 million. A fourth-round rookie makes around $800K annually.

It's clear what the most fiscally responsible avenue is, and we know running back won't be at the top of Poles' positional value chart. If the Bears can get a guy like Texas' Roschon Johnson on Day 3, that would make more sense than spending a boatload on Barkley or even $7-8 million for Montgomery.

It's unlikely Barkley will land a McCaffrey-level deal. He seems to know that. The most likely scenario is Barkley re-signing with the Giants or getting tagged.

Barkley and the Bears only make sense in one universe -- one where the running back is OK with a fair deal that doesn't end up breaking the bank.

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