The Chicago Bears have two key players hitting free agency in Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery and there is a chance the team will not retain both offensive stars this offseason. Jeffery is likely to return as a free agent despite dealing with injuries this past season, while Forte may be allowed to walk after the team did not engage in contract talks with the running back last year.
Forte has been one of the most productive backs in the league during his time with the Bears, but a number of factors could keep him from returning to Chicago. Forte is 30 and that is the age that most running backs start to break down, which could lead the Bears to turn to younger players like Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey at the position. The Bears did not engage in contract extension talks with Forte last year and that could be a sign that the team is not interested in bringing Forte back for next season.
There always is a chance that the Bears could sign back Forte on a one-year deal if the market doesn't develop like Forte expects, but right now that outcome is looking unlikely. Towards the end of the season Forte spoke with the Associated Press and said that there is "nothing really to hope for" when it comes to getting a new deal from the Bears. Forte said that he wants to return, but that he has not heard anything back from Ryan Pace and the team after trying to engage in contract talks during the season.
Forte has taken a lot of wear and tear on his body over the years and he has been one of the most utilized backs in football during his time in Chicago. Langford played well as a rookie while stepping in for Forte while the running back was injured and that could impact how the Bears handle things with Forte in free agency. Jeffery is also hitting the market, but he is likely to return to the Bears despite missing seven games this past season.
Jeffery is just 25 years old and he has shown that he can be an elite receiver in the NFL, putting up at least 85 catches for 1100 yards in back to back seasons while combining for 17 receiving touchdowns in 2013-14. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes that he would be "very surprised" if Jeffery was not back for next season. If the Bears and Jeffery can't work out a new contract, the team could consider using the franchise tag on Jeffery.
The Bears pick at number 11 in the draft this year and players like Reggie Ragland, Shaq Lawson, Robert Nkemdiche and Myles Jack could be potential targets. Mel Kiper at ESPN has the team picking Ragland in his first mock draft, while SB Nation has the team going after Jack. The Bears need an upgrade at linebacker and this year there are some solid names for the team to target.