Why Bears RB D’Andre Swift might be best thing to happen to QB Caleb Williams

The death of the NFL’s running-back market, it turned out, was greatly exaggerated.

One year after premier rushers discussed ways to try to ensure players at their position were paid properly in a league that increasingly favored cheap rookie contracts, some of them — including seven former Pro Bowl players — spent March landing sizable free-agent contracts.

The Giants gave Saquon Barkley a three-year, $37.75 million deal. The Texans traded for — and then re-upped, Joe Mixon. Josh Jacobs (Packers), Derrick Henry (Ravens), Aaron Jones (Vikings) and Tony Pollard (Titans) all signed free-agent deals with new teams.

The Bears were among the teams who landed a Pro Bowl running back when they signed D’Andre Swift to a three-year, $24 million deal minutes into the NFL’s legal tampering period.

One busy offseason might not change the perception of the position, but it was an improvement nonetheless.

‘‘It was better than last year,’’ Swift said Friday. ‘‘Hopefully it’s trending in the right direction, so the people coming next can kind of keep upping and upping it.’’

The Bears saw an added bonus in adding Swift, 25, after he set career highs with 229 carries and 1,049 rushing yards last season with the Eagles: He can become rookie quarterback Caleb Williams’ best friend on the field. A strong running game would be the best thing to happen to Williams.

‘‘I feel like if you’ve got a good run game, it makes everything else work in the offense,’’ Swift said. ‘‘Play-action, receivers, everything kind of trickles off one another. So when you’ve got a good running game, I feel like it makes the whole offense itself more balanced.’’

Running rarely has been a problem at Halas Hall. The Bears led the NFL in rushing with 177.3 yards per game in 2022 and ranked second last season (behind the Ravens) with 141.1. All that did was get offensive coordinator Luke Getsy fired and quarterback Justin Fields traded.

The Bears need balance. The last time they finished in the top half of the league in passing yards per game and rushing yards per game was in 2013. Even then, they were exactly 16th on the ground.

To run a successful offense, the Bears can’t have a running game without a passing game. And vice versa.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of playmakers outside, a lot of playmakers in the running-back room,’’ Swift said. ‘‘I feel like we’ve got a lot of stuff in this offense to get our playmakers the ball.’’

Swift will be the first to get the ball out of the backfield. While the Bears foresee Roschon Johnson and Khalil Herbert having a role in their rushing attack, it’s clear whom their lead back is.

‘‘We really needed that guy that can really operate on third down — and even on first and second down — to be a weapon in the deep part of the field and the short part of the field and be able to take it the distance,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘[Swift has] got a lot of gas.’’

Even more attractive to the Bears is that Swift can be a weapon in the passing game. His 195 career catches are more than double the 77 that Herbert and Johnson have totaled in four combined seasons. He never has had a season with fewer than 39 catches or 214 receiving yards.

Just as a solid running game will help Williams, so would Swift turning an easy throw into chunks of yards.

‘‘He’s a weapon out of the backfield, which is outstanding for our passing game, and it’s going to create some mismatches for us,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘He can do a lot of things from the backfield. He can split them out wide and run the full route tree. He’s exciting to watch.’’

New coordinator Shane Waldron didn’t have the rushing volume Getsy had in his three seasons as the Seahawks’ play-caller. His scheme was explosive, though: The Seahawks ranked third with five yards per carry in 2021, seventh with 4.8 in 2022 and 17th with 4.1 last season. Their lead back, Kenneth Walker III, has totaled 1,955 rushing yards in his two NFL seasons.

‘‘There’s just a lot of opportunity out there,’’ Swift said. ‘‘That’s how I look at it. Not just for me, for everybody. For all the playmakers. For receivers. For backs. There’s a lot of opportunities in this offense.

‘‘It’s a complete offense, but it’s going to take work. It’s a new offense; we’re all new here. The coaching staff’s new. Rookie quarterback. So it’s going to be a learning experience for everybody. I’m confident in the group that we have.’’

On his third team in as many years — he was drafted by the Lions in 2020 and traded to the Eagles in April 2023 — Swift finally has a contract that can allow him to put down roots. The Bears’ next potential contract out won’t come until after the 2025 season, when they would have paid him a combined $16.5 million in his first two seasons.

Not that Swift gave his new home too much thought before signing his contract. He said he didn’t consider that the Bears were on the verge of drafting Williams when he signed his deal in March.

He’s glad he did.

‘‘It’s a great situation to walk into when you’ve got a rookie quarterback who has great potential and you’ve got guys around him who have been in the league for a couple of years,’’ Swift said.

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