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Free Agent Thoughts: Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte

Dec 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) catches a pass against the Minnesota Vikings for an 80 yard touchdown catch in the third quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Vikings win 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

By Bryan Dietzler

The Bears are going to have several players hit the open market in free agency this offseason if they don’t get around to re-signing them not allowing them to enter free agency.  There are mostly lesser-known players that could or could not be with the Bears next year but there are two very well known players that will be free agents.  Those two players are Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery.

The General Manager of the Bears, Ryan Pace, had at one time stated that there would be no new deals done during the 2015 season.  Pace has stuck by that brining in only new talent on short-term deals and not signing anyone to a long-term contract.  Now, with the season about to conclude it’s time for Pace to get to work and get some of these players resigned.

However, is he going to resign Forte and Jeffery?  That is the big question heading into this offseason.  Forte, although 30, still has some mileage left on him and has proven that he still has some value.  Jeffery, although often injured this season, is the most valuable asset at the wide receiver position the Bears have.  It’s easy to see when he is out of the lineup the Bears have a lot of problems moving the ball down the field through the air.  He has the speed to take the top off a defense and make defenses pay close attention to him sometimes providing double coverage when he is out on the field.  The problem is he isn’t out on the field that often and the Bears really miss him when he’s not there.

So you have an aging running back who is showing no signs of slowing down (despite the fact he has been injured a couple of times this season) and a high profile wide receiver that can’t seem to stay on the field and these guys are two of your top players.  What will the General Manager of the Bears do with these two when the season ends?  Will he bring them back and keep them on the team or is he going to let them walk in free agency, allowing them to choose another team and let them be gone.

Forte’s people made overtures to the Bears earlier on saying that they would give a “hometown discount” to the Bears if the decided that they wanted to resign Forte.  This seemed like a good idea at the time but remember that Pace wasn’t going to do any contracts over the course of the season so Forte’s motions went unanswered as the team locked up and didn’t respond to him.  This has made Forte visibly frustrated, as it appears as if he would really like to come back to the Bears and finish his career in Chicago.

The Bears would be smart to re-sign Forte and bring him back for another couple of seasons.  The two back system would work well for the Bears and if rookie Jeremy Langford ever went down with an injury Chicago would have Forte there and he would be a strong backup or starter at the position.  So the smart thing to do would be for the Bears to bring back Forte at his “hometown discount” price and allow him to finish his career with the Bears.  Not only would bringing Forte back help make the rushing attack stay consistent but it would also allow a dedicated player who has given a lot to this team a chance to finish his career in Chicago.  The Bears should re-sign Forte and allow him to end his career as a Bear.

Things may be a little bit trickier with Jeffery.  The Bears were optimistic for him coming into this season figuring that he would play very well being it was a contract year.  Things didn’t quite work out for Jeffery this season and he spent a majority of the year sitting on the bench with injuries.  When he was in the game he was dynamic and really helped the Bear’s passing offense move the ball down the field.  His absence at times in games has really hurt the Bears.

The biggest question now is do the Bears want to re-sign Jeffery knowing that he is an injury risk and if they do want to re-sign him how much money should they pay him?  Jeffery will command a high price in the free agent market but do the Bears want to spend that much on him.  With an unknown in Kevin White and no other solid receiver on the team, the Bears need to bring Jeffery back and keep him in the mix.

So what should the Bears do with Jeffery?  They have a couple of different options.  The first is that they could just sign him to a contract that is of fair price (knowing his injury history) and something that both sides could agree upon.  It’s likely that Jeffery wants to remain a Bears but he is going to go where the money is.  The other option is for the Bears to apply a “tag” to him and work around that.  The Bears may want to use this method because it locks Jeffery to the team and gives them the first right of refusal thus checking the market for what he might be worth rather than overpaying him.

The best bet is that the Bears will place a transition tag on Jeffery, allow him to test the market and match any offer that comes in for him.  This way they will be able to keep Jeffery and possibly keep him at a decent price.  It’s more likely than anything that Jeffery is going to remain a Bear come next season because the team is desperate for talent at the position and Jeffery, when healthy, can be just the type of player they are looking for.  Imagine if White pans out and the Bears have Jeffery and White on the field at the same time.  That would make their passing offense very dynamic and give quarterback Jay Cutler more weapons to throw the ball to.

So re-signing both Forte and Jeffery should be in the Bear’s plans for this offseason.  They can still get a lot of use out of Forte and he has at least another couple of seasons that he can put on and play well enough to help the Bears win.  Chicago need’s Jeffery and should do what it takes to keep him with the team.

If anyone does go, it will probably be Forte.  The Bears have seen enough of Langford to see that he is a solid running back that can carry the load for the Bears and is similar to Forte.  It would be nice to have a two back system but that might not be financially possible.  Jeffery is too good to lose and the Bears will definitely keep him around for at least one more season.

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