The Chicago Bears today informed running back Matt Forte that he will not be re-signed in free agency.
The Bears have a two-pronged backfield ready to replace Forte with youngsters Jeremy Langford (148 career rushes) and Ka'Deem Carey (43 career carries). Personally, I belive these two can produce as a competent duo next year, but their combined lack of experience is concerning.
As such, expect the Bears to target a veteran runner in free agency who can assist in the development of Langford and Carey.
With that in mind, here are the top free-agent running backs who will soon hit the open market.
**As always, I do not include Restricted Free Agents in my free-agent analysis.**
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay (5-9, 223) Age: 27
Martin is coming off the second 1,400-plus rushing campaign of his career. He's very talented when motivated but he's also had two horrible, injury riddled seasons. He's all but said he's leaving the Bucs, as he's ready for his first big pay day. That will likely price him out for the Bears.
Lamar Miller, Miami (5-10, 225) Age: 25
Miller is an above-average all-round back who, surprisingly, wasn't overworked during his time with the Dolphins, thus reducing the wear on his tires. He's produced as a runner and a receiver and has 19 total touchdowns the last two seasons combined. He's only 25, so like Martin, Miller is due for a large free-agent contract, which is unlikely to come from the Bears.
Alfred Morris, Washington (5-10, 224) Age: 27
Morris' touches and rushing yards declined in each of his four seasons with the Redskins and he doesn't offer anything as a pass catcher. He's a one-dimensional plodder who would do little more than stunt the development of both Langford and Carey. Moving on.
Chris Ivory, N.Y. Jets (6-0, 222) Age: 27
Ivory is a bruising runner who excels between the tackles. In 2015, his first year as the full-time starter, he rushed for 1,070 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry, while adding 30 catches out of the backfield. Ivory is a volume producer who needs a lot of touches to be effective, which doesn't make him a great fit in Chicago.
Ronnie Hillman, Denver (5-10, 195) Age: 24
Hillman is a speed back who last year rushed for 863 yards and 7 TDs in Denver's timeshare backfield. His skill set is similar to that of Langford. Given Hillman's age and recent production, he'll likely be looking for a starting opportunity and probably won't find splitting time in Chicago's three-headed backfield very appealing.
LaGarrette Blount, New England (6-0, 250) Age: 29
Blount is an intriguing option. He's on the downslope of his career and is used to working in committee backfields. He's a beast between the tackles who has a ton of value in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He'll come cheap as well.
Lance Dunbar, Dallas (5-8, 195) Age: 26
Dunbar is another interesting option as he's the best pass-catching running back in free agency. He had 21 receptions through three games for the Cowboys last year before tearing up his knee (which happened on a 45-yard run.) Dunbar is a valuable asset on 3rd down, an area in which Langford struggled as a rookie.
James Starks, Green Bay (6-2, 218) Age: 30
Starks is very good all-around back who has proven capable in a full-time role. Yet the Packers have already expressed their desire to re-sign him and he turns 30 later this month. It's highly doubtful he plays for the Bears next year.
Chris Johnson, Arizona (5-11, 203) Age: 30
One of the fastest players to ever play in the NFL, Johnson found the fountain of youth with the Cardinals last season, rushing for 100 or more yards in four of his first eight games. He faded down the stretch before landing on IR in Week 13. He still has a bit left in the tank and his veteran experience could benefit the two youngsters.
Fred Jackson, Seattle (6-1, 215) Age: 35
Jackson slowed down some last season and only received 26 carries for the Seahawks. Yet he was still a weapon as a receiver, catching 32 passes for 257 yards and 2 TDs. He's one of the most respected veterans in the NFL and is great on 3rd down, both as a pass catcher and blocker. He'll be 35 next year but in a very limited role, Jackson could have value in Chicago.
Tim Hightower, New Orleans (6-0, 220) Age: 30
Bryce Brown, Seattle (6-0, 220) Age: 25
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis (5-10, 217) Age: 30
Shaun Draughn, San Francisco (5-11, 205) Age: 28
Pierre Thomas, Washington (5-11, 215) Age: 31
Reggie Bush, San Francisco (6-0, 205) Age: 31
Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay (5-8, 212) Age: 28
Stevan Ridley, N.Y. Jets (5-11, 220) Age: 27
Chris Polk, Houston (5-11, 222) Age: 26
Matt Asiata, Minnesota (6-0, 219) Age: 29
Lance Dunbar: The biggest need for the Bears will be a running back that can handle duties on 3rd down. Langford is going to the get the majority of the touches on 1st and 2nd down, with Carey spelling him occassionally and in short-yardage situations. Dunbar is the ideal option for 3rd-down duties. He has outstanding hands and great awareness as a receiver. He's also adept as a blocker. Dunbar's knee injury is a big concern - he tore both his ACL and MCL - but if he checks out medically, the Bears should pursue a cheap option with big upside.
A good Plan B is Fred Jackson, assuming he doesn't retire. Jackson is almost as old as I am but he can still serve as a quality third-down back. His veteran experience would benefit Langford and Carey, while his presence in the locker room would also be a boost.