The Chicago Bears have two key free agents hitting the market for 2016 in Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery, but only one of those players may return for next season.
Forte is hitting the market after a productive career with the Bears, but there is a good chance that he will not return to the team next season. The Bears did not engage in contract extension talks with Forte last year and that could mean the running back will be allowed to walk in free agency. According to the Associated Press, Forte said earlier in the season that while he is interested in returning to the Bears, there's "not much hope" for a new deal after the team did not engage in contract talks last season.
Forte is 30, the age that most running backs start to break down, and with the emergence of Jeremy Langford last year, the Bears may give him the chance to start. Jeff Dickerson at ESPN Chicago writes that the chances of Forte returning to the Bears are "slight" at this point. The two sides did not have any real contract talks during the season and while that doesn't guarantee that Forte will not be back, it is not a positive development for his return.
Forte dealt with some injuries last season, but he missed just three games and proved he can still be very productive while healthy. The Bears may think he is breaking down a bit, as Forte only missed one game in the previous four seasons. Forte had his lowest total numbers in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards in a number of years with the Bears last season and the team could see that as one reason to let him walk.
The Bears likely will not do the same with Jeffery, who is also hitting the market this offseason at wide receiver. Jeffery is the top player hitting the market at the position and there is a chance that a number of teams could go after him if the Bears let him on the open market. The team is reportedly interested in locking up Jeffery on a long term deal and Dickerson writes that Jeffery is "likely" to return to Chicago.
Jeffery dealt with injuries last season and played in just nine games, but he still put up solid numbers with 54 catches for 807 yards and four touchdowns. Jeffery could be franchise tagged if the team can't work out a long term deal. The Bears pick just outside the top 10 in the draft this year and the Chicago Tribune predicts that the team will go after a linebacker. The position is deep this year and players like Myles Jack, Reggie Ragland and Jaylon Smith could be targets to line up with Pernell McPhee on defense.