NEW YORK (AP) — Matt Forte spent the past few weeks weighing his difficult decision — to continue a terrific playing career or walk away from the game he loves.
On Wednesday, one of the NFL’s most versatile running backs carried the ball for the final time.
The 32-year-old Forte announced his retirement from playing after 10 NFL seasons in a humble and heartfelt statement to Sports Spectrum that he also sent on Twitter and Instagram.
“It’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable,” Forte wrote.
He had one year remaining on his contract with the Jets, but knee issues during his two seasons in New York, as well as his age, made him a likely salary cap casualty this offseason.
Instead, Forte went out on his own terms.
“For the past 10 years, I’ve been blessed to play professionally a game that I’ve loved since I was 6 years old,” Forte wrote. “But after much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to retire from the NFL.”
The move saves the Jets $3 million on their salary cap — the same amount if they had released him.
Forte’s 9,796 yards rushing rank him 33rd on the NFL’s career list. He also had 554 receptions, including setting the league record for running backs with 102 catches in 2014.
The two-time Pro Bowl selection’s 14,468 yards from scrimmage over the past 10 years are the most of any NFL player during that span.
Forte spent his first eight seasons with Chicago after being drafted in the second round out of Tulane in 2008. With the Bears, he established himself as one of the best all-around running backs in the league as an electrifying presence who could make plays running or catching the ball out of the backfield.
Forte ran for more than 1,000 yards in five of his eight seasons with Chicago, and caught at least 50 passes six times.
“The roar of the crowd at Soldier Field as I’d break a run or make a big catch,” Forte wrote, “will forever be ingrained in my mind.”
He became a free agent after the 2015 season, and the Jets signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract.
Forte led New York with 813 yards rushing, but it was a career low for the running back who ended the season on injured reserve. He had arthroscopic surgery on the knee at the end of the 2016 season to repair a torn meniscus.
Forte was ready for the season opener, but swelling in the knee worsened last November and Forte said he was “basically playing on one leg” since. He ended up on injured reserve to end the season for the second straight year.
He had a career-low 381 yards rushing on just 103 carries last season and ran for two touchdowns, and also had 37 catches for 293 yards — the second-lowest totals of his career — and one TD.
Forte said late last season that he had no intentions of calling it a career, despite saying he did not produce “up to standards.” But he changed his mind during the past few weeks.
“While my heart is a bit heavy as I close this chapter of my life,” Forte wrote, “I am excited about what the future holds.”
Forte thanked his parents, wife, agent, the Bears, the Jets and the fans in his statement. He called his career “a miracle” and said playing in Chicago allowed him “to live out my childhood dream in playing for the Bears.”
The announcement drew several messages of congratulations and best wishes on social media from current and former teammates with the Jets and Bears. Fellow running backs on other teams such as DeMarco Murray and Mark Ingram also tweeted about Forte,
Former Bears center Olin Kreutz, who played with Forte for three seasons, called him “one of the best all-around backs of his era, if not the best.”
Added former Bears fullback Jason McKie : “I knew you were special the 1st day you set foot in Halas Hall.”
Jets safety Jamal Adams, a rookie last season, called Forte “a true class act.”
Former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who had Forte in his backfield from 2008-12, said “few players embody all-around success better than him! Proud to be his coach.”
For the Jets, Forte’s decision opens a spot in the backfield. Bilal Powell led New York with a career-high 772 yards rushing and five touchdowns, and caught 23 passes for 170 yards. He is signed through next season and is expected back.
The Jets also have Elijah McGuire, who had 315 yards rushing and a touchdown in his rookie season after being drafted in the sixth round out of Louisiana-Lafayette. Jeremy Langford, Jahad Thomas, Akeem Judd are also on the roster, but the Jets are likely to target a running back in free agency or in the draft in April.
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