Walter Payton rarely would talk about other running backs. When he did, it was usually about Jim Brown or Barry Sanders, Payton’s son, Jarrett, said.
“Growing up, we’ve seen a lot of running backs come in and out [for the Bears] — people that had a lot of hype and promise and some who fizzled out,” Jarrett said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was like, ‘Is the running-back position cursed now?’
“Then Matt Forte gets drafted.”
On Friday, Forte’s run with the Bears officially ended after eight seasons. Forte, a second-round selection in 2008, announced that general manager Ryan Pace informed him that he would not be re-signed.
Forte has been the best back to play for the Bears since Walter Payton. Forte trails only Payton in rushing yards, total yards and receptions in franchise history. Forte’s eight seasons of reaching 1,200 yards from scrimmage trail only Payton’s 10. No other Bears player has had more than three.
“My dad would be really, really proud of not just the football player [Forte] became and grew to be here in Chicago, but also as a man,” Jarrett said. “He didn’t talk about a lot of guys, but I think Matt would be a person that he would look at and say, ‘This guy did it the right way.’ ”
The Bears’ decision to move on from Forte shouldn’t be surprising. He said it was likely weeks ago. His attempts to get an extension were rebuffed before last season, while Jeremy Langford (a 2015 draft pick) and Ka’Deem Carey (a 2014 draft pick) earned the team’s confidence.
Still, having a good grasp on his future didn’t make the Bears’ decision any less somber. Forte, who turned 30 in December, always held out hope that he could remain with the Bears.
“Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end,” Forte wrote on his Instagram account. “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.”
The void left by Forte is immeasurable. On the field, he ran for 8,602 yards and 45 touchdowns in eight seasons and his 12,718 total yards from scrimmage are the most for any player since 2008. Off of it, he was voted a team captain in 2015 and was a two-time Brian Piccolo Award recipient.
“These decisions are never easy, especially given what Matt has meant to our team and community,” Pace said in a statement. “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.”
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