Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith usually doesn't give much away during his meetings with the media. He's the best in the NFL at talking without saying anything. Yet today, he gave us a glimpse on his thoughts regarding running back Marion Barber's potential return next season.
"It's a concern always when a player has missed time, and not just one year," Smith said today. "He's been a player that's been injured quite a bit. We always look at the [injury] history. So that is a factor in determining players on your roster, what position he has and all of that."
Barber missed yesterday's game with a calf injury. He missed most of this year's training camp with a similar injury, as well as the first three regular season contests. In the 11 games he's been active, he's amassed 422 rushing yards on 114 carries (3.7 avg.) with six touchdowns. As a short-yardage back, Barber has been solid all season. Yet since Matt Forte was lost to a sprained knee, Barber has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and had two crucial errors against the Broncos in Week 14 that cost Chicago the game.
RB Marion Barber
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire
When you add up the injuries, lack of production and mental mistakes, you get a player without a clear future with the team. The situation is made even more nebulous when you consider how well Kahlil Bell rushed yesterday against the Packers. He carried 23 times for 121 yards (5.3 avg.) and chipped in four catches for 38 yards.
"It was impressive what he did last night, to finally get your chance to be the guy, to be the man, and I thought he ran hard from start to finish," said Smith. "He made excellent cuts in the open field, ran with power, caught the ball out of the backfield. Everything you want a good running back in the NFL to do, he did, on a national stage. You have to feel good about what he did in his first time as the bell cow."
Bell also did a great job picking up the blitz. The Bears did not allow a sack the entire game, only the third time they've done so this season.
"Based on what he's done his entire time here you would feel comfortable [making Bell the primary backup to Matt Forte]," Smith said. "With a lot of players you wonder. ‘Well, can they do it?' You may be in the backup role, but you've never played. But when you get a chance to see a player in a backup role and he performs that way, you have to be excited about his future."
Barber's contract will count for $2.875 million toward the cap next season. In contrast, Bell is a restricted free agent who could be re-signed for less than half that amount. When you factor in that Bell is three-and-a-half years younger than Barber, it's almost a no-brainer. It's highly likely the Bears will cut the expensive veteran and go with the hungry, and more-talented, youngster to back up Forte next year.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.