The Chicago Bears fourth-year running back is a special player. Matt Forte is not merely on the cusp of elite status, he exploded through that door weeks ago.
Personally speaking, I take great pride in boasting my early predictions that this guy was going to be great. I’ve never doubted Forte’s abilities, and I don’t argue that he is currently earning close 10 or 15 times what he’s actually being paid.
All we’ve ever seen from this guy is improvement, drive, motivation and a work ethic even the late, great Walter Payton likely would have endorsed.
But there’s an inherent problem with ever-growing the “Pay Forte” movement. Simply put, it wrongfully paints the Chicago Bears as the bad guy.
The truth is there is no “bad guy” in this discussion. And those of you who would like to couple your “Pay Forte” sentiment with an “Occupy Halas Hall” movement are building an argument atop sandy shores.
Please, don’t misunderstand the impetus of what I’m trying to convey here. If there was ever a guy in today’s NFL that you want associated with your football team and on the field come Sunday afternoon, it’s Matt Forte.
Forte has continually and repeatedly represented himself, and the Chicago Bears organization, in exemplary fashion, and he’s displayed the utmost professionalism throughout the arduous process of coming to terms on a much-deserved contract extension.
Forte is not to be blamed for publically expressing his discontent with his current deal. The fact of the matter is that he's vying for his future and not just as a football player.
Matt understands what every owner and general manager in the NFL also understand; his career could be peaking as we speak. In his fourth season, Forte has already outlived the average life-span of an NFL running back.
But the reason why there is truthfully no real story in all of this is because there is nothing overly unusual about the situation.
It seems many fans have already forgotten that the Bears DID in fact offer to “Pay Forte.” They DID value him much higher than his current rookie salary. In fact, they offered him a very fair deal; a deal similar to those garnered by similar players at the time.
Because, what fans also have to understand is that the Bears were negotiating with a pre-2011 Matt Forte. And prior to 2011, many were still unsure of what they really had in number 22.
Just for some perspective, what the Bears will have to pay Matt Forte in 2012—assuming they do not agree to a long-term extension, choosing to franchise tag the back—is between seven and eight million dollars, guaranteed, on a one-year deal.
That tag is figured based on the five highest paid players at the position.
What did the Bears offer the pre-2011 Forte? A deal worth six million annually—increasing after each season—and $13 million in guaranteed money. That, my friends, is a smart deal that an organization can live with, and a deal that is VERY fair to a running back who was not a free agent, was not—at the time—a superstar, and was still under contract.
It was Matt Forte who made the decision to walk away. Forte took a gamble that he would increase his value in 2011. He has done that. And, when all is said and done, he may walk away with the deal he was originally looking for.
Forte’s real hope is that the Chicago Bears—not some other team—will recognize his increased value in 2012 and sign him to a more lucrative, multi-year extension and NOT use the franchise tag. Personally, I think the Bears will do that.
The franchise tag is more or less an insurance policy should the Bears find themselves in a bidding war they don’t intend to be a part of. But Forte remains insistent that he wants to stay in Chicago, despite comments that may suggest otherwise.
Just seven games into the season, and Matt Forte has remained healthy. But, imagine a scenario in which the Bears did “Pay Forte” in an offseason when they did not have to. Now imagine they gave him the kind of money he was looking for. Now imagine Forte being carted off the sideline in week two with a season ending injury.
In a scenario like that—a scenario other teams HAVE faced this season—fans would have been jumping all over the train aimed at criticizing the Bears front office for dulling out stacks of guaranteed cash to a guy on injured reserve. Or even worse; imagine the injury was not just season ending but career ending.
So far this year, 13 of 32 starting NFL running backs (41%) have missed at least one regular season game due to injury. Two of them—Tim Hightower (Redskins) and Earnest Graham (Buccaneers)—suffered season ending injuries.
Graham was actually placed in the starting role due to a previously existing injury to Tampa Bay RB LeGarrette Blount.
And we’re not even through the first half of the NFL regular season yet.
The Kansas City Chiefs signed running back Jamaal Charles to an extension, including $13 million guaranteed, this offseason. Charles hasn’t played a game since week two.
How can the Bears be faulted for offering a fair—and financially sound—deal to a pre-2011 Matt Forte? Again, the problem with the “Pay Forte” talk is simple: THEY DID OFFER TO PAY HIM.
Forte took the gamble. And so far, it’s paid off. Or has it?
Given the usually short career life-span of NFL running backs, what if the Bears do in fact franchise tag Matt Forte and he goes on to another great season in 2012? He’ll have made between seven and eight million.
Go back to the Bears prior offer and he’d have made six million, while still having a safety net of another seven million guaranteed.
So, now imagine that he does not have anywhere close to a season like 2011, or that he gets injured and can’t play in 2012. In that scenario, if he had accepted the Bears offer, he’d be approximately five million dollars richer.
Surely, it’s still possible—and in my opinion probable—that the Bears will work out a multi-year extension for Matt before having to tag him in 2012. I don’t think they will do so during this season, however.
The sad truth is that the insanely bad deals given to guys like Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson give a false illusion of worth to other backs around the league. And smart owners and general managers realize that.
No, I’m not campaigning Jerry Angelo for GM of the year. In fact, my frustrations with the Bears GM are great. But you give credit where credit is due.
Johnson, whose deal is worth $53 million—$30 million guaranteed—is currently tied for 34th in the league among running backs.
That bad decision on behalf of the Titans holds no weight in Forte’s argument as far as 95% of teams in the NFL are concerned. And it shouldn't.
Adrian Peterson, you ask? Why did I mention his deal? Because the $100 million dollar quarterback-esque deal the Vikings gave him unfortunately has not helped their team win football games at 2-6 on the season. It’s the reason why money like that is reserved for quarterbacks, who can make that difference in the win, loss column.
Unlike Johnson, Peterson continues to perform and show why he is still the best back in the league. But that doesn’t preclude the Vikings from criticism when it comes to the deal they handed out.
Perhaps the biggest conundrum for me is exactly why Bears fans so desperately want to see Forte get paid right now; to the point that I’ve had more than a few tell me it’s actually bothering them personally.
Where’s the issue, folks? You explain to me how the Chicago Bears organization did the wrong thing. When Forte asked for an extension, I was in complete support of it. So were the Bears. He deserves more than the close to $600,000 he will make this season, and the team did offer him an extension; and they offered him a fair one. Bottom line is that it was Matt Forte who chose to play for $600K.
And he’s playing like an absolute superstar. Again, where’s the issue?