INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears still think Matt Forte can play. But they didn’t even negotiate with him on a new contract, GM Ryan Pace revealed Wednesday, because they say the same about their two younger, cheaper running backs.
Pace and coach John Fox painted their decision to not re-sign the franchise’s second most-prolific rusher as a referendum on Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey, who have three NFL seasons between them.
No pressure, right?
“Those guys earned that,” Fox said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We made decisions last week that we were able to make because we have great confidence in our young backs.”
Strategically, Fox would rather rely on a “wave” of running backs than one featured rusher. Still, he described Langford — who ran 148 times for 537 yards and caught 22 passes for 279 last season — as, like Forte, well-rounded.
“Jeremy was a very complete back as a rookie,” Fox said. “A lot of times, guys know runs or guys know reads on runs — but pass (protection), the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, I think that’s where Jeremy really excelled and really kinda exceeded our expectations.”
Pace praised the steady progress he showed as a rookie — aided, in part, by his preseason workout sessions with Forte.
“I have a lot of confidence in his physical ability, his speed, his vision, his acceleration,” Pace said. “And I feel he’s going to get a lot better going forward.”
Carey, too, allowed the Bears to walk away from Forte. After he rushed 43 times for 159 yards in his second season, Fox described him as “pretty special.” The coach recently watched film of Carey’s runs against the Rams for fun.
Carey was a star in college but not the 2014 Combine, and didn’t show his thumping style until given an opportunity in games last year.
“We’re here, and sometimes a lot gets put into height, weight, speed, 40 (-yard dash),” Fox said. “A lot of times it’s hard to measure behind that left nipple and between your ears.”
Forte has that, too, and Bears officials fell all over themselves praising the 30-year-old Wednesday.
By parting with him, though, they made a decision to entrust running backs coach Stan Drayton with developing the next wave of talent. Even on a team that ranks third in the league in available cap space, that’s valuable savings.
“Part of this a lot of times, guys, is the confidence we have in player development with our coaches,” Pace said. “That’s huge, and that’s huge for the health of a franchise is developing your younger players.
“Sometimes that involves some tough decisions along the way. But I am happy with those guys.”
The Bears figure to add another backfield candidate, be it in the middle rounds of the draft or via free agency.
For now, at least, it will take two rushers to replace Forte.
“They’re ascending young players,” Pace said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t still add to that group, but right now we feel good about it.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley