Just before the regular season, the Bears best offer to running back Matt Forte was believed to be worth about $6 million per year, with $13 to $14 million guaranteed.
On Monday, before kickoff of the Lions-Bears, general manager Jerry Angelo made clear that Forte was the team’s top priority.
“We anticipated Matt having a great season like he’s having. It isn’t new. That’s why we did what we did,” Angelo said. “I don’t want that message to get lost, that we were trying to do something before we felt Matt was going to be good.”
But there’s a difference between good and great.
That’s the fundamental issue between the two sides. It’s unclear how much Forte wanted, but Angelo noted in several instances during the preseason that Forte was not an unrestricted free agent.
In the NFL, a deal that averages about $6 million a season gets a running back closer to good than great. Consider that Steven Jackson and DeAngelo Williams get an average of $8.6 million on their latest deals, while Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson average over $13 and $14 million, respectively.
So is Peterson worth more than twice what Forte is?
But here’s another way to look at why Forte balked at the Bears offer, even though he’s making $600,000 this season. San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore got a deal that averaged $7 million a year — back in March 2007.
Gore is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but he’s played all 16 games just once in his six previous NFL seasons and has not been as statistically productive as Forte, which has been documented. Before the start of this regular season, Gore signed another three-year extension that averages $7 million and includes $13.5 million in guarantees.
Even Forte’s backup, Marion Barber, landed a contract that averaged $6.5 from the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, when the club projected he’d be a featured back. Barber, though, six
Through five games this season, Forte is now first in total yards from scrimmage with 785, and he’s also sixth in rushing yards (440) and seventh in total catches (30).
According to ESPN, he’s accounted for a league-high 51.5 percent of his team’s total offensive yardage. The next closest player? Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, at 40.1 percent.
The last NFL running back to finish a season with more than 50 percent of his team’s total yardage was O.J. Simpson in 1973.
Asked if he can carry his offense, Forte said, “I’ve always been prepared to carry the load.
“As a running back, you have to run, catch and block. And whatever they call on me to do, I’m prepare to do. And I’ve been doing that my entire career. It’s not going to change now.”
Until he’s no longer a Bear, which looks the way things are headed.
Angelo said there’s nothing new toward a deal, and Forte’s agent Adisa Bakari told the Sun-Times last week that the process dragging on and on will only complicate matters.
“We’ve stated, from the very beginning, the longer we wait, the more difficult and complicated it becomes.”
The Bears, of course, could franchise him at a projected cost of about $8 million for the 2012. But, if Forte continues to play well, they may be best served trading him to another club that will work out a contract with him.
If that happens, though, Angelo would be letting go of arguably his best draft pick – in terms of value and production – during his tenure as Bears general manager. Then, he’d have to find another productive running back.