INDIANAPOLIS - The Chicago Bears decided to part ways with running back Matt Forte because of what they like about their depth at the position, not because of anything they dislike about Forte.
There could be reason for NFL general managers to pause before pursuing the two-time Pro Bowler. Forte, an eight-year veteran, will turn 31 in December. He has been one of the NFL’s premier dual-threat running backs since the Bears drafted him with a second-round pick in 2008, but Forte is at an age where his best football is likely behind him.
Bears coach John Fox was part of the brain trust that decided it was time to move on from Forte. Speaking with the media Wednesday at the NFL combine, Fox said there’s no doubt in his mind Forte still has a future in the league.
“I don’t think Matt’s football is over,” Fox said. “I think that’s part of the reason why we were pretty early and honest with him about moving forward. I think it helps him. I think Matt Forte will play more football. We just wanted to give him that opportunity.”
The question many Packers fans have been wondering is whether Forte’s future destination could be Green Bay. The Packers had success two years ago when they signed outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who the Bears released after the 2013 season. Peppers has continued his hall of fame-caliber career with the Packers, recording 17.5 regular-season sacks in 32 games.
Perhaps another Bears castoff could thrive with the Packers. There is a need for a running back who can double as a receiver out of the backfield. Forte showed his receiving ability with 102 catches for 808 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. Still, there’s his age. It’s hard to imagine Packers general manager Ted Thompson would offer a hefty salary for 30-year-old running back.
Fox said nothing to disparage Forte’s ability to contribute to a championship contender. Their decision was propelled by depth. Even without Forte, the Bears will have to sort out carries between second-year tailback Jeremy Langford and third-year tailback Ka’Deem Carey.
“I think what allowed us to make that decision — albeit a very difficult decision — was the confidence we had in our younger backs," Fox said. "Any time a guy of Matt Forte’s reputation, what he’s meant to the organization — I mean, he’s such a great, great pro and was for us in just the one year we were there, and had been for a long time — those are never, never easy decisions. But at the end of the day, I think it was best for him. And I think it was best for us.”