The Chicago Bears had an opportunity to extend Matt Forte's contract last off-season. The move would have cleared cap space and assured Forte's presence in the huddle, at a discounted rate, for at least another year or two.
Forte initiated those talks with GM Ryan Pace, who had no interest in extending the soon-to-be 30-year-old running back.
Most Bears fans are unwilling to accept it, and understandably so, but Forte's time in Chicago is almost assuredly over. The writing was on the wall, which is why the Bears used a fourth-round pick in last year's draft on former Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford.
Through the first six games of his rookie season, Langford was scarcely used, totalling just 15 carries for 34 yards and 1 TD, with 2 receptions for 34 yards.
Yet Forte's knee injury in the Week 8 contest against the Vikings, which forced him to miss the next three contests, thrust Langford into the No. 1 role. In three starts in place of Forte, Langford carried 51 times for 170 rushing yards and 2 TDs, along with 13 catches for 198 receiving yards and 1 TD. For the rest of the season, even after Forte returned, Langford was an integral part of former offensive coordinator Adam Gase's offense.
Between Weeks 8-17, Langford had just one contest in which he received less than 10 carries - the season finale, during which Forte received the bulk of the carries as sort of a going-away present - finishing the year with 148 carries for 537 yards (3.6 ypc) and a team-high 6 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 270 receiving yards and 1 TD.
In a backup role behind one of the game's best all-around running backs, 807 total yards for Langford in his rookie season is solid.
Langford showed good leg drive between the tackles, a nose for the end zone and great speed - he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at last year's scouting combine, the fastest at his position. As a result, it's likely the Bears will move forward with Langford as the club's bell cow back.
Yet not all was rosy for the former Spartan, who has many holes in his game that need filling.
First, 3.6 yards per carry is not a workhorse average, while his long run of 23 yards shows a ball carrier unable to create the big play. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Langford was the least elusive back in the NFL last year, one who forced just three missed tackles all season. That's concerning.
Second, he had a number of crucial third-down drops. Langford played wide receiver early in his career at MSU and has good hands, but he appeared to lose focus as a pass catcher when the pressure was on. In total, he dropped 8 balls in 2015, which was the most of any running back in the league.
Third, he was porous in pass protection. PFF ranked him the worst blocking back in the league last year. In 49 snaps in pass protection, he allowed 8 QB hurries and 1 QB hit. Not good.
Langford is a quality running back with an elite skill set but he's far from a finished product. It's unlikely he's going to remedy all that ails him in one off-season, so if the Bears part ways with Forte, expect Langford to work in a committee backfield, most likely with Ka'Deem Carey, next season.
Long-term, Langford can be a legitimate successor to Forte, who came into the league with a lot of the same problems - except for his hands, which have always been great. Langford still has a lot of room for growth but when he finally peaks, he has the potential to be an explosive, game-changing running back.null