The contract negotiations with the Bears and franchise running back Matt Forte are entering the fourth quarter. With two weeks left to sign an extension, Forte has been slated to earn 7.7 million dollars this season after having been tagged with the franchise tender, but negotiations still remain locked in a stalemate.
Forte has expressed his displeasure at the lack of a new contract dating back to last year when Jerry Angelo was still the General Manager. With Phil Emery calling the shots as Bears GM, he has made Forte even more hostile with the signing of free agent running back Michael Bush to a four- year deal.
This marks the third consecutive year in which the Bears have signed a running back to a big contract following the signings of Chester Taylor and Marion Barber, respectively.
Fans of the charter franchise of the NFL remain split on the Forte saga. Many fans are upset over the Bears and their cheap ways. Throwing out the c-word is done as a reflex to grizzled fans that have been burned by the tight purse strings of the McCaskey family in the past.
However, that sentiment doesn’t hold much credence with the way the Bears have spent money under Ted Philips. The team has spent large amount in free agency as recently as two years ago when Julius Peppers got a reported 40 million in guarantees. In addition, the Bears have rewarded their own players with extensions; Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, and Jay Cutler all received new money from the team in the last few years.
Those in the corner of the franchise argue that Forte is not being disrespected by being “forced” to play for 7.7 million dollars and should be grateful he gets to play a game for a living while so many are struggling to make ends meet.
The issue for Fort is not the salary he will earn this season, and if he gets tagged again, a figure that will be north of nine million, but rather in the lack of security beyond two years.
A running back’s shelf life is short in the National Football League and backs experience a steep decline quicker than all other positions in the NFL. When you factor in the workload of Forte the past four seasons and his senior year at Tulane where he logged 361 carries, it’s easy to see why the Bears have been reticent to give in to Forte’s demands.
Forte has seen a drop in carries each of his four NFL seasons and has yet to match the 1,238 rushing yards he had his rookie year. While Forte has a large presence in the passing game, his rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons only equal 13 and running backs don’t get big-time extensions when they can’t run the ball across the goal line.
Forte had a career-high 4.9 yards per carry before missing the last four games due to a knee injury, which reportedly the Bears have concerns about.
Michael Bush is more than capable of stepping in and filling the void if Forte holds out, which he remains coy about when asked if he would report to training camp when the team reports July 25th. Forte can accept the 7.7 million this year and play for the Bears, or he can sit out and forfeit 10 game-checks, the maximum number of games a player can miss and still accrue a year towards free agency.
Is Forte foolish enough to forfeit that much money when he is holding out to get more guaranteed money and years?
Holding out will not endear himself to the organization and his chances of securing an extension would dissipate as fast as Usain Bolt running the 100 meters.
Not to mention he would eliminate all the goodwill he has built in his previous four years as a Bear among the fans who pride themselves as a blue-collar fan base. Forte would quickly become a pariah and fans will be clamoring for him to be traded.
The chances of a long-term extension seem far-fetched as Forte enters his 5th season and will turn 27 in December. Even if Forte rushes for 1,000 and catches 60 balls for 1,000 yards this season, the chances of a long-term deal beyond next year seem to be unrealistic because of the fall-off backs experience when they hit 30.
I don’t think the Bears are being unfair to Forte. In fact, I think they are handling this situation with great aplomb. Fans should be elated that the organization is actually practicing sounds business practices and taking a firm stance in negotiations.
The clock is ticking and with each passing day the leverage grows more and more in the Bears favor.
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