What should the Bears do with Matt Forte?
Once Jay Cutler went down injured last season, some fans still remained optimistic that running back Matt Forte would be able to mitigate the loss of our starting quarterback. What actually happened, and what has seemingly become a trend in Chicago sports, is Forte was lost for the season due to a knee injury two games later.
Before the start of last season, the Bears attempted to finalize a contract extension with Forte, but were unable to do so. Forte elected to wait until after the season to continue negotiations, but after his injury, the two parties have been unable to come to agreement. This has prompted Forte to holdout of all team activities until an extension is reached. Since the two sides first initiated negotiations, running backs DeAngelo Williams, Arian Foster, Fred Jackson, and recently LeSean McCoy have all been given extensions. So why have the Bears refused to do so?
While the Bears front office and the McCaskey family are notoriously frugal, they recently signed Julius Peppers to the biggest contract of the 2010 offseason, as well as extending both Jay Cutler and Lance Brigg’s contracts. Also, the trade for Brandon Marshall added an additional $9.3 million to the 2012-2013 payroll. Given these moves, the Bears front office has been willing to shell out money to acquire and keep talent.
Matt Forte was one of the best running backs in the NFL last year. He accounted for more of his team’s offense than any other player prior to his injury, and given the poor state of the receiving corps, Forte was also our best receiver. Forte essentially assumed the role Marshall Faulk played in Mike Martz ‘ offense during the “Greatest Show on Turf” years of the St. Louis Rams. Over the past two seasons when Forte is given 16 carries or more, the Bears are 14-2; when he doesn’t (I blame Mike Martz for these games) they are 5-9.
What Forte is looking for is a contract akin that of Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson ($10-11 million per season), whereas the Bears are looking more in the range of the previous running backs mentioned ($7-9 million per season).
This essentially boils down to whether the Bears decision to not resign Forte is a calculated and intelligent decision or alternatively, one of the worst moves in recent Bears history? (Given that this is the Bears, there are a couple hundred to choose from).
I believe the Bears are making the right move by not offering Forte a contract in the same range as Johnson and Peterson, and there is no reason why Forte shouldn’t accept the same deal McCoy or Foster were given. The issue with handing out so much money to a running back is that it is the most fragile and shortest-lived position in football. According to a study by the NFL Player’s Association, the average length of an NFL career is only 3.3 years, and the lowest of all positions is at running back at 2.8 years.
Forte has a history of knee injuries beyond last year’s season-ending one. In 2009, he also sprained his MCL and in 2006 he tore his PCL. Running backs take a beating on every play either through blocking or running, and agreeing to pay someone $10-11 million dollars per season given such extensive injury history is not a sound investment.
The list of bad running back contracts is extensive: Corey Dillion, Ricky Williams, Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, and Jamal Anderson to name a few. Investing $10+ million dollars into such a fragile position is not only a bad investment at the position, but it also drastically affects shaping the rest of the roster. Currently the Bears have placed the franchise tag on Forte, which gives him a one-year salary of $8 million dollars. This allows the Bears more time to work on a contract, but Forte continues to holdout until a long-term deal is reached.
The Bears made the right decision to bring in Michael Bush. For the first time in a long-time, the backup running back position is settled. Bush carried the load for the Raiders backfield last year once Darren McFadden went down, and is an extremely good runner in the red zone, something lacking from Forte thus far in his career. Given this, if Forte’s holdout extends into the season, the production from the position will not be detrimentally affected.
The Bears and Forte’s agent, Adisa Bakari, should be able to use the recently signed extensions as a barometer for Forte’s contract. New General Manager Phil Emery seems like he has a better grasp of running a football team than his predecesor Jerry Angelo did, so he will ultimately make the the right decision. If Forte balks at the Bears offers, they will not hesitate to move on without him and look to trade him. Bears fans have a right to be disappointed if a deal is not reached, but there is so much turnover between NFL seasons that the franchise has to keep the big picture in mind.