The Chicago Bears made two very unpopular moves last offseason, going separate ways with Matt Forte and Matt Slauson. But despite a disappointing season, those moves proved that to be the best for the franchise.
Matt Forte was arguably the most popular Chicago Bear over the last several seasons. So when Forte announced on his instagram account last offseason that the Bears had decided not to offer him a contract, plenty of fans were agitated. Sure, Forte was older, but he was still productive and many fans thought the move was premature.
More from Bear Goggles On
- Franchise tag and transition tag windows open for Chicago Bears and NFL
- How the Chicago Bears can control the running back market in 2023
- The Chicago Bears can own the city of Chicago moving forward
- Chicago Bears NFL Combine Preview: Quarterback
- 7 best free agent tackle options for Chicago Bears
When Matt Slauson was released shortly after the NFL draft, it seemed that every Bears fan (myself included) thought Ryan Pace had lost his mind. Slauson was coming off a fantastic season. He was healthy. He was a team leader. And he had a very reasonable contract. Reports came out that Slauson didn’t quite fit the blocking scheme, but when you have as many questions on the offensive line as the Bears did, why on Earth would you release your best offensive lineman from 2015?
But after the dust settled on the 2016 season, despite disastrous results, it was clear that both these moves were clearly in the best interest of the franchise.
Let’s start with Forte.
Forte did have a lot of miles on him and was at that dangerous running back age of 30, but he was popular and was productive in 2015. Forte signed with the New York Jets and after the start he had to the season, critics were rolling their eyes at Pace. But after a few games, one player emerged for the team and proved to be the Bears MVP this season- rookie running back Jordan Howard.
Howard started the season third on the team’s depth chart. Had Forte been signed, how much playing time would Howard have received? Better yet, would the Bears even have drafted Howard with three running backs on the roster?
However it played out, Howard certainly wouldn’t be the player he was this season and certainly would have seen a significantly reduced workload. Howard is one of the best building blocks the Bears have on this roster and if Forte had been retained, there’s a solid chance Howard wouldn’t be here. That’s a huge win for Ryan Pace.
The Slauson move certainly played out differently, but in the end, this proved to be another intelligent move by Pace. I despised this move when it happened. I wrote multiple articles about it, and took to social media to criticize the team. When Hroniss Grasu went down for the season over the summer, it was borderline comical that the Bears were so foolish.
But then pieces started to fall into place. Cody Whitehair proved to be a very good center and his improvement week-to-week was incredible. By season’s end, he was already one of the best centers in the entire league. The Bears seemed doomed at left guard a week before the season started, and perhaps it was just a stroke of luck that the Bears were able to sign Josh Sitton, but regardless, Pace saw an opportunity and made it happen.
Had the Bears gone into this season with Slauson, Grasu, and Kyle Long, their interior line would have been solid, but the trio of Sitton, Whitehair, and Long was arguably the best interior trio in the entire NFL when they were all on the field.
Small victories like this may not seem like much when the team went 3-13 and failed in just about every aspect of the season. But the Bears are in a rebuilding mode and these victories need to happen and happen often if they are going to turn this thing around
It’s these type of decisions that show that there is a reason to believe in Ryan Pace. He clearly is a very good talent evaluator. The Bears have issues- a lot of issues- but if they can keep building up the roster like they have the last two seasons, the light at the end of the tunnel may not be as out of reach as it seems.