Something doesn’t feel quite right about the Bears’ decision not to pursue a new contract with Matt Forte. Not suggesting any skullduggery or unseemliness here, just that it is difficult to conclude something like the letting of Forte exit without an offer signaling that the Bears are giving up on 2016 or other impulse conclusion.
Ostensibly, Forte represented a quality, continuity linchpin in a Chicago offense that is transitioning from Adam Gase to Dowell Loggains at offensive coordinator. Forte has the unqualified trust of quarterback Jay Cutler, a proven receiver and pass protector beyond his obvious effectiveness at carrying the football. The Bears cannot afford any slippage in Cutler’s buy-in with the offense under Loggains.
The Fox Factor
The notion of the Bears of John Fox already deciding, before both free agency and the draft, that 2016 will involve acceptable losses, i.e., eschewing playoff aspirations, makes no sense. That has not been Fox’s pattern with Carolina or Denver; why now? Maybe; but I don’t buy it.
For perspective purposes, Fox and the Panthers let go of their top two rushers of 2001 when Fox was hired, and the win total increased by six. They let go their top two again the next year, and the win total went up another four and the team went to the Super Bowl.
Fox’s Denver Broncos won 13 games in 2012 with Willis McGahee at age 31 rushing for 4.4 yards per carry and backup Knowshon Moreno averaging 3.7, kind of Jeremy Langford’esque. The next year, McGahee was gone, Moreno netted 1,038 yards and 4.3 per carry, and the Broncos were in the Super Bowl.
No team improves directly because of getting rid of a good football player. But neither does parting with a solid player ensure backsliding.
Be careful about simply looking at a hefty amount of money under a salary cap, or that cap increasing, and concluding that it means a team can afford pretty much anything it wants. The reality is that as the cap goes up, contracts escalate proportionately. Agents are nothing if not savvy practitioners of at least one element of Keynesian economics: The more money there is pursuing goods and services, the more the prices go up.
Forte's agent Adisa Bakari secured a better-than-market deal for Forte in 2012. The surprise would be if Forte and his representatives do not already have a read on the market, how much interest in Forte and from whom it will come (start with any of the playoff teams other than Denver).
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Frank Gore last offseason set a market for quality running backs at or approaching age 30. The Indianapolis Colts signed Gore away from San Francisco for a deal based on $6.5 million guaranteed. Chris Johnson at age 30 signed a one-year deal last season for $2 million. Gore failed to average four yards per carry for the first time in his 11 NFL seasons. Johnson fractured a leg but did rush for more than 800 yards.
Simply having the money doesn’t mean automatically spending it.
Neither Langford nor Ka’Deem Carey averaged four yards per carry last season, which Forte did. But the Chicago offense was virtually without a coherent passing component due to the blizzard of injuries that took down, at one time or another, every important receiver in the offense.
The Bears are expected to retain wideout Alshon Jeffery via either franchise tag or multi-year contract. They are also on track to have Kevin White recovered from his stress fracture. With Eddie Royal then able to assume his intended role as No. 3, the question is not whether the stretched field will benefit Langford and Carey, but rather how much.
Best guess is that no one single reason lay behind the Forte decision, which takes out of Chicago one of the true elite, if underrated, talents in the game. The Bears did not get better when they stepped away from Forte; but it is difficult to believe that, under a coach who turned 61 last week, they made a move that they believe makes them worse big-picture.