Bears: Matt Forte situation means looking beyond simple conclusions


Bears: Matt Forte situation means looking beyond simple conclusions

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.

[MORE: Replacing Matt Forte? Good luck, Bears]

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.

Money matters

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.

Offensive adjusting

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.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”