Matt Forte confirmed what we've expected all season: the running back will hit the open market in March.
"Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end," Forte wrote. "I was informed earlier this week from the GM that they will not be attempting to re-sign me in free agency. I will remain forever grateful for my time spent in Chicago and being able to play for an organization with such a rich history. My only regret is not being able to win a Lombardi trophy for the best fans in all of sports. I'm excited about the next chapter of my NFL career. But, Chicago will always be home. God Bless and Bear Down!"
Drafted in the second round out of Tulane in 2008, Forte has been one of the top dual-threat running backs in the NFL the past eight seasons. He compiled 8,602 rushing yards and 4,116 receiving yards. Forte missed three games in 2015 due to injury. The injuries led to a career-low 898 rushing yards, but he still averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
Forte has the most yards from scrimmage since entering the NFL in 2008. Forte's 12,718 are more than Adrian Peterson's 12,003. Forte is one of five players in NFL history to post 1,200-plus yards from scrimmage in each of his first eight seasons (Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Watters). No running back has more receptions than Forte over the last three seasons (220). Forte set the single-season record for receptions by a RB (102) in 2014.
"We recently met with Matt to inform him we will not extend a contract offer for the 2016 season," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. "These decisions are never easy, especially given what Matt has meant to our team and community. We have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Matt is one of the all-time great Bears and did an excellent job for us on and off the field last season. He was a tremendous teammate. We thank him for his professionalism and wish him the very best as he continues his career."
Forte has plenty left in the tank for a team that wants to pair the 30-year-old with a younger backfield mate. Far from merely a third-down complement, Forte can play on all three downs, run between the tackles, pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield. Although his age might keep his contract numbers down, there are few players that could provide better bang-for-your-buck on the open market this season.
The Bears will hand the backfield to Jeremy Langford. In his rookie season, Langford flashed pop as a runner, power and good hands out of the backfield. The Bears will also utilize Ka'Deem Carey in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The play of the young running backs in 2015 made it clear the Bears would move on from Forte. Langford's production should see a huge leap in 2016.
Always one of the most underappreciated running backs in the NFL, Forte still has plenty to offer. Wherever he lands, there is no question that team will improve its backfield and locker room.