|Clearly, Forte is not happy. (Getty Images)|
The Bears franchised Matt Forte in March and, in theory, the plan was to sign him to a long-term deal. The reality hasn't been that simple. In fact, there have been reports the team is concerned about Forte's balky knees, and Forte admitted recently that the process has left some "scars."
"That's what happens when you get into the business side of sports," the running back told the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley recently. "There's an easy way to get over those scars, but we'll see. Everyone looks at it and says, 'Oh, it's only about money. It's not only about money.' It's about you going out there and putting your heart and soul on the field, being respected for what you do, and then being rewarded for it."
The biggest problem: Forte's position. Running backs, in general, are fungible (we've beaten this point into the ground so we'll spare you the soapbox sermon here). Which means that, given limited salary-cap dollars, it doesn't make sense to overpay for one. That's not to denigrate Forte's accomplishments, just the economic reality of today's NFL.
Not helping Forte's case: the underwhelming 2011 season Titans running back Chris Johnson had after signing a four-year, $53 millions deal. Still, it's not impossible for a running back to get paid. The Eagles' LeSean McCoy and the Texans' Arian Foster both managed new five-year contracts this offseason; the former got $45 million ($20 million guaranteed), the latter $43.5 million ($20.75 million guaranteed). And as it turns out, Forte is looking for a McCoy/Foster payday.
"Market value, that's basically what I'm talking about," Forte said. "There have been a lot of running backs that have been in my position that have signed, LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster. There's an area that we need to deal from, and we all know what that area is. It's just a matter of doing it."
But is Forte worth what the Eagles and Texans gave their young backs? Looking at the Football Outsiders value-per-play metric for the last two seasons, He ranks well behind McCoy and Foster.
Forte: 22nd in '10, 40th in '11
McCoy: 6th, 1st
Foster: 2nd, 13th
Conventional statistics favor McCoy and Foster, too. Since 2010, they rank first and second in the league in rushing touchdowns (Forte is 24th), and second and fifth in rushing yards (Forte is 11th).
Whatever Forte's worth (and it's reasonable to assume that it'll be somewhere south of McCoy and Foster because, in addition to the differences in productivity, the Bears also hedged their bets by signing Michael Bush in March), he could do without Jay Cutler's public comments on the matter. The Chicago quarterback said recently that he'd be shocked if the running back didn't sign his franchise tender by mid-July.
"It kind of looks bad when other people speak for you. [Cutler] doesn't really know what's going to happen. He's not in the negotiations," Forte told Cowley. "He's just being optimistic. He wants me there, I want to be there. But it's just a matter of what happens in the next couple of weeks."
We understand Forte's frustration. And while Cutler should probably keep his thoughts on personnel matters to himself, he's not wrong. Forte, like most players angling for a new contract, has virtually no leverage. If he sits out, he doesn't get paid. And his carries will go to Bush, the new guy signed by the team signed for dirt cheap this offseason.
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