Chicago Bears  

 

Bears face uncomfortable future without Forte, Cutler

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Nam Y. Huh/AP
Chicago's playoff chances took a major hit when Matt Forte suffered a knee injury on Sunday.


 

If I am Matt Forte, waking up with an injured knee Monday morning and a season that seems to be slipping away, I'm succumbing to human nature. My mind is racing forward, to possible free agency and the likelihood of getting franchised rather than getting the kind of pay day my work has earned. And I'm thinking back, to the months before and after the lockout, when a long-term deal couldn't be struck.

And in the present, I'm going to be extra careful about exactly when I get back on the football field. A knee, especially for a running back, is nothing to play around with. I want my MCL fully stable and strong before I get back on the football field, and I'm letting a bunch of doctors look at it before making that decision. This could be a career-defining decision not only for Forte, but also his extended family. The timing is as dicey as it gets -- a 2-to-6-week timetable with only four games to play and the postseason hanging in the balance. Quarterback Jay Cutler is in a similar predicament with his broken thumb.

Suffice to say, there could be an uncomfortable few weeks ahead for the Bears. They were playing excellent football prior to Cutler's injury, but two straight unsightly losses to AFC West teams, with backup Caleb Hanie throwing six interceptions and the team becoming horribly inept on third down, have derailed Chicago's postseason hopes.

This team is going to have to reset its offensive mindset and think long and hard about grooming and integrating a veteran quarterback to quickly take over. And I'd be reaching out to Chicago native Donovan McNabb. I know he doesn't have ties to the system, sure, and he's struggled plenty the past two years, but if this season comes down to a single game in Week 16 or 17, I'd rather have been prepping McNabb for a few weeks and sliding him into the starting role than rolling with Hanie the way things look right now. And without Forte, possibly for the season, all the more reason that the person under center has some seasoning and pedigree to fall back on.

It doesn't have to be McNabb, per se, but when you scan the available talent, there isn't much there, and I wouldn't feel comfortable having Josh McCown as the only NFL quarterback behind Hanie. But when you are 0-for-11 on third downs against Kansas City at home, and your QB is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, and has been sacked 11 times in two games, you may need to change some personnel to salvage what seemed like such a promising season just a few weeks back.

It's become easy to criticize McNabb, and I get all of that. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and unless the Bears can lure Marc Bulger out of retirement, you're not going to find a decent, winning quarterback on the street who already knows Martz's system inside and out. It's going to be a stretch for anyone, but sources say there are some on the Bears staff, including influential offensive line coach Mike Tice, who think it's worth taking a flyer on McNabb. I'd say it can't hurt. Give Hanie one more week and start spending after-hours with a veteran quarterback to be next up.

The Bears should do this, mind you, under the realization that Marion Barber might have to be the bell cow for the rest of the season. Forte is going to have to be his own best advocate here. It's a situation hardly of his own making -- his compensation to this point in his career has been based almost entirely on where and when he was drafted, not on his production in the pro game. Other running backs -- playing a contact position with a very short shelf life -- have received guaranteed money recently of $20-$30 million, while the franchise figure for running backs will shrink to $7.7 million, according to league sources.

If that knee is anything but 100 percent, I'm not banking on seeing Forte. We often hear that football is a business, and that axiom cuts both ways. He's done nothing but be his team's best player almost every week, and it's long baffled Forte's teammates and coaches why he wasn't taken care of before the season began. As he looks around the league and sees contemporaries like Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden and Fred Jackson nursing injuries of their own, the realities of his job will be impossible to miss.

I just don't think it's fair to expect Forte to do anything superhuman, with the way everything has played out. And for a team with so few other young players to take care of and sitting on oodles of cap space, it never had to come to this. And any lingering questions the front office had about Forte's value are about to be answered for all to see, for better or worse.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora

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