Detroit Lions land RB David Montgomery in free agency, say good-bye to Jamaal Williams

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions will have a new a workhorse in their backfield in 2023.

The Lions reached agreement on a three-year, $18 million contract with Chicago Bears free agent running back David Montgomery late Tuesday night, according to multiple reports.

Montgomery’s signing, which can become official at 4 p.m. Wednesday, likely means the end of Jamaal Williams’ time in Detroit.

Williams led the Lions with 1,066 yards rushing and the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns last season. A fan favorite in Detroit, Williams became the first Lion to top 1,000 yards rushing since Reggie Bush in 2013 and broke Barry Sanders’ franchise single-season touchdown record.

He said after the season he hoped to sign a long-term extension with the Lions, and the two sides met to discuss a new contract at the NFL combine earlier this month.

In Montgomery, the Lions believe they upgraded their offense with one of the most productive and durable backs on the market.

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A third-round pick out of Iowa State in 2019, Montgomery topped 200 carries in each of his four seasons with the Bears. He ran for career-highs of 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020, topped 800 yards each of the past two seasons and has averaged 3.9 yards per carry on nearly 1,000 attempts for his career.

Lions coach Dan Campbell called Montgomery “the starting point” of the Bears offense last season.

“He’s tough,” Campbell said in 2021. “He is. He runs tough. He’s shifty. He can get under you. He can hit the hole, one-cut guy and so he’s dangerous, he can be dangerous. If we don’t have population around the football when he carries it, that guy, he can tear you up. So yeah, he’s kind of one of those steady player is what he is.”

Montgomery ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns in win over the Lions in 2021, but the Lions held the 25-year-old to 61 yards on 15 carries in two games last season, both Lions victories.

The Lions finished fifth in the NFL in scoring offense and fourth in total offense in 2022, and had their best rushing performance — 128.2 yards per game — since Sanders’ second-to-last season in Detroit in 1997.

Montgomery joins a backfield that also includes D’Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson, Craig Reynolds and fullback Jason Cabinda. Swift had 99 carries for 542 yards last season and dealt with shoulder and ankle injuries most of the year.

New Lions running backs coach Scottie Montgomery said at the combine this month he wanted “smart, tough and reliable” backs in his backfield.

“We got to protect the quarterback and protect the football,” he said. “We’re going to work our ass off on doing those things and then we’re going to be there to support our players in the room. It’s the brotherhood, right? We talk about it. It’s not going to always be in my hands. The football’s not going to always be in my hands. It may be in someone else’s hands but we got to cheer and we got to be there for our brother just like if we were the ones carrying the football.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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