Forte sees big role with Jets, hopes Fitzpatrick re-signs

NEW YORK (AP) Matt Forte liked just about everything he saw about the New York Jets.

Todd Bowles' terrific defense, Chan Gailey's consistent offense, and the chance to rejoin his Bears buddy Brandon Marshall were all strong selling points. The uncertain status of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, however, made the star running back a bit apprehensive.

After signing a three-year, $12 million deal with the Jets last week, Forte is optimistic that Fitzpatrick - locked in a contract stalemate with the team - will be the guy handing him the ball in New York's backfield.

''Based off last year's production and the way Brandon has talked about the chemistry that he's built with Ryan,'' Forte said during a conference call Monday. ''So I would expect and hope it would be him.''

The Jets went 10-6 last season, just barely missing the playoffs because of a loss to former coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills in the season finale. Fitzpatrick threw interceptions in each of the Jets' last three possessions in that one, but the quarterback also set the franchise record with 31 touchdown passes.

Forte, who wasn't offered a contract after eight seasons with Chicago, said Tampa Bay, Dallas, Green Bay and New England all showed levels of interest. But when he looked at the Jets, he thought it was ''the perfect fit.''

Forte is 30, an age at which NFL running backs typically begin to decline, but said the Jets talked to him about being ''an every-down back.'' New York also re-signed Bilal Powell and signed former New Orleans running back Khiry Robinson, giving the Jets a revamped backfield after Chris Ivory signed with Jacksonville as a free agent.

''I envisioned myself in this offense,'' Forte said, ''with this team and having a great defense, and running the ball and being able to throw the ball to the big receivers outside.''

The two-time Pro Bowl selection has been one of the league's top playmaking running backs since being a second-round draft pick by Chicago out of Tulane in 2008. He ranked second in Bears history to Hall of Famer Walter Payton with 8,602 yards rushing, 487 receptions, 12,718 yards from scrimmage, 24 100-yard rushing games and 25 games with 150 yards or more from scrimmage. Forte also set the NFL's single-season record for receptions by a running back with 102 in 2014.

With all of that production, Forte figured the Bears would attempt to keep him around. He was told last month, however, that Chicago would not be offering him a deal.

''Not really blindsided, but surprised that I didn't receive an offer, at least, from them,'' Forte said. ''I figured they would at least offer me something mid-to-low range of the free-agent market, but for them to tell me that they don't want you back is always kind of a hard pill to swallow. That's where (I've) been the whole time, that's where I was drafted.

''But you roll with the punches. That's their decision, and you move on.''

Marshall, traded by the Bears to the Jets last offseason, helped with Forte's next step by ''somewhat'' recruiting him to join him in New York. The two are good friends, although there was some speculation about lingering friction because of comments made about each other last offseason.

Marshall had criticized Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and Forte responded that the wide receiver didn't make himself accountable enough. The two spoke soon after and ironed out any differences.

''Me and Brandon, we hold each other accountable,'' Forte said. ''Even when we're not on the same team, we do the same thing, because we're friends off the field, not just in the locker room. It may sound harsh when you're talking to each other over the media, and things may get twisted. But we spoke to each other on the phone after that, and hashed everything out.''

Now, they're teammates again - both waiting to see if Fitzpatrick joins them.

''With the defense we have and how they ran the ball last year, I felt like, with me signing and everybody else being in place,'' Forte said, ''it would be really enticing for him to come back as well, and continue to build on what he built last year.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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