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NFL AM: Forte Announces End of Tenure with Bears

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One of the league’s best running backs over the last several years is hitting the open market the offseason, and the team he’s spent his entire career with has no interest in retaining him.

Matt Forte announced in a post on his Instagram page early Friday that his time as a member of the Chicago Bears is finished. The running back will become a free agent when the new league year begins in March and wrote that the Bears told him they will not be extending an offer of a new contract.

“Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end,” he 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!”

The Bears will move head on into the Jeremy Langford era. The 2015 fourth round pick out of Michigan State impressed both in Forte’s stead and alongside him in a rotation as a rookie last season and has earned the chance to carry the reins for Chicago. That his opportunity came at the expense of the end of Forte’s career with the only team he’s ever known is an unfortunate consequence of doing business.

Forte built a reputation as one of the league’s most versatile and effective running backs over eight season with the Bears, after they drafted him in the second round out of Tulane in 2008. Injuries limited him to just 13 games last season but he still managed 1,287 yards from scrimmage, topping 1,000 for the eighth straight season. He is just one-year removed from an incredible 2014 campaign in which he rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught 102 passes for 808 yards receiving.

An every down back throughout his career, Forte has a lot of mileage on his tires, having garnered more than 2,500 touches over eight seasons in Chicago. He hit the running back cliff of age 30 late last season, but proved down the stretch last year that he still has something left in the tank.

Several teams would likely be interested in adding Forte to their running back rotation, but with little time left in his career, Forte is likely to prioritize a chance to compete for a championship which should narrow his suitors. He’s the type of player the Arizona Cardinals have been known to add in years past and could fit nicely in the role occupied by Chris Johnson alongside David Johnson. The Seattle Seahawks would also likely be interested in Forte as a complement to Thomas Rawls with Marshawn Lynch headed toward retirement.

Whoever ends up with Forte can expect to get a versatile running back with some of the best hands in the league who can play at any time and do just about anything needed from a team at the position.

BURFICT SUSPENSION UPHELD ON APPEAL

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict will officially be sidelined by the league to start the 2016 season.

Burfict’s three-game suspension for a blow to the head of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown during a Wild Card playoff game was upheld on appeal Thursday, ensuring that the Bengals would be without the linebacker through to Week 4. Appeals officer Derrick Brooks cited Burfict’s “repeated violations of safety-related playing rules” as the reason for denying the appeal.

The hit that drew the suspension was a season-changer for both teams. For the Bengals, it may have cost them the Wild Card game, as the associated penalty moved the Steelers into field goal range and another penalty on Pacman Jones in the aftermath of the hit essentially made the game-winning kick a chip shot. The Steelers were also negatively impacted as the concussion Brown suffered on the play kept him from playing in the divisional round against the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, a game the Steelers lost but just a touchdown.

With all that in mind, the NFL had to send a message with the punishment for Burfict, who has built a reputation as one of the league’s dirtiest players. The 25-year-old linebacker led the league in unnecessary roughness penalties last season. It seems he particularly targeted the Steelers as well. After a Week 14 meeting between the teams he was fined $70,000 for three plays deemed unnecessary by the league. Six weeks earlier, a tackle by Burfict ended Steelers star running back LeVeon Bell’s season. Over the course of the season, Burfict knocked all three of Pittsburgh’s big three of Roethlisberger-Bell-Brown out of games.

Burfict’s reputation as a dirty player preceded him coming into the league out of Arizona State and contributed to the fact that he went undrafted despite being a supreme defensive talent. Now it seems he is in the crosshairs of the league office in their fight for player safety. It’s not a battle he can win, so he’ll have to change his play style or he’ll see even more harsh punishment down the road as a repeat offender.

For his part, after his appeal was denied, Burfict did ask for a meeting with his agent, coach Marvin Lewis, Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL executive VP Troy Vincent to discuss his behavior and how to avoid future punishment, according to NFL Network’s Albert Breer. But actions speak louder than words and the way Burfict conducts himself over the course of an already suspension- shortened 2016 season will go a long way toward determining his character in the eyes of the league.

PACKERS INK LETROY GUION TO THREE-YEAR DEAL

How the Green Bay Packers approach adding free agents this year in the wake of head coach Mike McCarthy’s critical comments after the season remains to be seen, but on Friday, the Pack made a move to lock up one of their own.

ESPN reported that the Packers have agreed to a three-year deal with versatile defensive lineman Letroy Guion. The deal is worth a reported $11.25 million according to NFL Network’s Albert Breer. An eight-year veteran, Guion has spent the last two seasons with Green Bay after six years with the Minnesota Vikings.

The 28-year-old had previously played on a pair of one-year deals in Green Bay. Last year an ill-timed arrest for marijuana possession got him suspended for the first three games of the season and forced him to settle on a short term deal despite a strong 2014 campaign. He returned from suspension and did enough in 2015 — starting four games and appearing all nine others for which he was eligible — for the Packers to commit to something more long term.

The 6-4, 295-pound Guion is a big asset to defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense in Green Bay because of his ability to play inside at the nose or outside. He went without a sack last year for the first time since 2011, but graded out positively as a run-stopper according to Pro Football Focus. He has compiled 150 tackles and 8.5 sacks over the course of his career.

The move is a good first step for Green Bay on defense this offseason, but they’ll have to do a lot more to upgrade a defense that ranked near the middle of the pack all season last year but allowed 361 yards per game in the postseason, ranking near the bottom of the league.

It’s an important offseason for the Pack, and McCarthy’s comments were a calculated attempt to put pressure on his bosses to improve the roster. Now it’s time for general manager Ted Thompson to step up and not only retain his guys, but bring in a fresh batch of talent for McCarthy and his staff, still considered among the best in the league, to work with.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys