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Busy evaluation period ahead for Pace

With 18 Bears players due to become unrestricted free agents in March, general manager Ryan Pace and his personnel staff have some key decisions to make.

The most noteworthy free agents-to-be are receiver Alshon Jeffery, running back Matt Forte, cornerback Tracy Porter, tight end Zach Miller, defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins, receiver Marc Mariani, linebacker Shea McClellin and outside linebacker Sam Acho.

The others are cornerback Alan Ball, guard Vladimir Ducasse, tight end Rob Housler, cornerback Sherrick McManis, center Will Montgomery, running back Jacquizz Rodgers, defensive lineman Mitch Unrein and safeties Sherrod Martin, Chris Prosinski and Ryan Mundy.

Jeffery was limited to nine games this season due to injuries to his calf, hamstring, groin and shoulder, but he still led the Bears with 54 receptions for 807 yards and four touchdowns.


Free agent-to-be wide receiver Alshon Jeffery led the Bears with 54 receptions for 807 yards.

"When Alshon played he was explosive and a playmaker for our offense," Pace said. "The previous two seasons he'd been healthy and highly productive. He was frustrated by his injuries. We were frustrated by his injuries. We've got to get a better grasp of that. Part of the evaluation of a player is his injuries and his availability. We'll take that into account."

Before being plagued with injuries in 2015, Jeffery played in all 32 games the previous two seasons. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2013 after catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns and followed with 85 receptions for 1,133 yards and 10 TDs in 2014.

In evaluating Jeffery moving forward, Pace will look at the receiver's production and injury history since he arrived in 2012 as a second-round draft pick from South Carolina.

"Those are all part of the discussions we're going to have in the coming weeks," Pace said. "Those will be thorough discussions. That's part of the process, a guy's injury history. He stayed healthy the two previous seasons. This season he was banged up with a variety of injuries. We've got to sort through that."

Asked whether the Bears will place a franchise tag on Jeffery for the 2016 season, Pace said: "It's a tool that we have at our disposal. It's a case-by-case basis. Normally, it's in the best interest of the club and the player to come to a longer-term agreement."

Forte also faces an uncertain future. The Bears appear to have confidence in promising young running backs Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey, but Forte has not slowed down, even at the age of 30. He led the Bears in rushing this season with 898 yards and four touchdowns on 218 carries, despite missing three games with a knee injury.

A look at the 18 Bears players that are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March.

This season Forte also became the second fastest player in NFL history to compile 8,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards receiving behind only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. Meeting with the media last Monday, Pace praised Forte for his accomplishments, production and willingness to share the workload with Langford and Carey.

"The way he handled that rotation with those younger guys, that was all really positive," Pace said. "We feel like we have a really good group of running backs. Matt is one of the 18 UFAs that we have that we've got to discuss going forward. We've got to be real thorough and honest with that assessment. But we like the idea of a rotational group of running backs and I thought that was one of our better rooms."

The Bears' nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, Forte possesses excellent intangibles that will factor into his evaluation.

"It's a huge part of it, it really is, and especially what we're trying to emphasize, the type of players that we want here," Pace said. "When we're talking about players, everything is coming into play—his physical traits, all the intangibles, his injury history, age.

"All those things are coming into play, and that's why it's good to have all our staff in the room, that the scouts and coaches are together on that and there will be thorough discussions on everybody, taking all those things into account."

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