Bears signing Saquon Barkley wouldn't be right move for rebuild

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Bears signing Saquon wouldn't be right move for rebuild originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bears still have six games left in the 2022 season, but the focus has already shifted to what will be a critical offseason for general manager Ryan Poles and the rebuild.

While much of the chatter has focused on the Bears' position in the 2023 NFL Draft, Poles will also have over $100 million to use in free agency to bolster the roster around quarterback Justin Fields.

The offensive and defensive lines should be the first priority for Poles in free agency. But ESPN's Dan Graziano recently threw out New York Giants star running back Saquon Barkley as a potential free agent target for the Bears.

Barkley, 25, is one of the most electric running backs in the NFL when healthy. The idea of pairing Barkley with Fields is understandably intriguing. The Bears already boast the NFL's top rushing attack with Fields, David Montgomery, and Khalil Herbert. Slotting Barkley in for the soon-to-be free agent Montgomery would upgrade an already lethal ground attack.

It's a fun exercise to try while playing Madden on your couch. That's as far as the thought of the Bears making an offseason splash by signing Barkley.

Even if Montgomery leaves in free agency, which seems likely, the Bears will still have Herbert to slide into the RB1 role and can add depth late in the draft or in the bargain bin in free agency.

Given Barkley's pedigree and talent, he'll certainly try to top the four-year, $64 million contract Christian McCaffrey signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2020. McCaffrey's contract pays him an average of $16 million per season.

As good as Barkley is when he's available, his lengthy injury history and the way the NFL is moving suggest that giving Barkley an AAV of $17 million or more is not the wisest use of the Bears' resources.

The Bears have needs from tackle to tackle on the offensive line. They need to find at least two edge rushers, another capable wide receiver, and an interior defensive lineman. Add that with money bookmarked for extensions for Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and Jaylon Johnson, and it would be unwise to shell out that money for Barkley, no matter how dynamic the pairing with Fields would be.

A play for Barkley would make sense if the Bears were further along in their rebuild. You need as many blue-chip players as you can find if you want to win a Super Bowl. The 49ers traded for McCaffrey this season because they are ready to win now.

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The Bears found their franchise quarterback in Fields. That makes this season a success. But they are also 3-8 and at least two seasons away from being considered legitimate contenders. That timeline is only realistic if Poles nails the upcoming offseason.

Winning NFL rosters are best created by spending money and using high draft capital on premium positions -- quarterback, left tackle, wide receiver, edge rusher, cornerback. You can find good running backs later in the draft and pay them a fraction of what Barkley will want.

A running back of Barkley's caliber would be a brilliant addition in 2024 or 2025. Maybe he'll be available and still producing at a high level then, and the Bears can find a way to bring him on board a team built to bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Chicago.

But the current Bears roster has much more important needs than an elite running back. The Fields-Saquon combo is best left to the imagination for now.

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