My first thought when I heard via Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times that running back Matt Forte got a long-term deal done with the Bears was that it was well deserved and couldn’t have been given to a better guy. So I was surprised to read and hear so many people who didn’t like the way the team’s money was spent. Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune expressed the typical view:
“Running back has become the most fungible position in the league. Running backs last about as long as Forte has already played. Running backs get hurt the way Forte did last season. Connect the dots, people.”
Former NFL safety Matt Bowen, writing for The National Football Post, also expressed his surprise at this reaction:
“However, talking on Chicago sports radio Monday afternoon, the one negative is the amount of money spent on a position that many believe has lost it’s value.
“‘It’s a passing league now,’ is what I heard yesterday. Don’t spend on backs and instead focus your money on the QB position and WRs/TEs that make plays down the field. Be a vertical offense. Put pressure on the secondary.”
I disagree with this view.
First, all players carry a certain degree of injury risk. Yes, its probably a bit worse for running backs but not that much worse. Every offensive player who carries the ball gets hit. At east running backs usually see it coming a brace for it.
Any way you slice it, Matt Forte is a very productive NFL player. An elite and versatile player. Those are the ones you keep because, no matter what anyone thinks, they don’t just grow on trees. If they did, Forte wouldn’t be the first one the Bears have really had since Thomas Jones.
Second, yes, its a passing league. We all know that. But as fan after fan after fan has pointed out in regards to the flaws of former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, you can’t pass in this league unless you run the ball occasionally. Even Martz’s most ardent defenders (e.g. me) would admit he had a tendency to forget the run occasionally. The minute pass rushers can load up and go after the quarterback without thought of stopping the run, offenses are in deep trouble. Especially offenses with a questionable line like the Bears.
You don’t think having a running back who can protect the passer is important for offensive success? You don’t think a running back who can catch the ball is of value in the passing game? Think again. Matt Forte is not just a good running back with vision. He’s an essential cog in the passing game as well.
No, I never had a doubt that the Bears were better off signing Forte long-term. The only question was what the money was going to be. We have the details from Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune:
“Forte is due $9.8 million this season, including signing and roster bonuses. He would have made $7.74 million in ’12 under the franchise tag. His cap hit now for this season is $6.8 million. But Forte essentially would have made the same amount of guaranteed money had the Bears elected to franchise him two years in a row.”
The 4 year deal gives Forte $17.1 million guaranteed and $28.1 million overall (the maximum is $31.5 million with roster bonuses and incentives). This is probably lower than the $20 million guaranteed Forte was looking for. Its certainly lower than the money Baltimore running back Ray Rice got a short time later (five-year deal reportedly worth $40 million, including $24 million guaranteed).
Why did Forte accept less? One reason was very practical. As former NFL defensive end Marcellus Wiley explains in this video at ESPN, the Bears had a lot of leverage in this negotiation. Forte was bound to be franchised again next season. But the Ravens needed to free up the tag so they could apply it to quarterback Joe Flacco. That got Rice a better deal.
Still, Forte could have stayed home and played it for more money next year. But ultimately he understood what was important. Wide receiver Earl Bennett put it very well in an interview with Sirius NFL Radio (via Jensen):
“‘We know what type of value Matt has within our offense and what he brings,’ Bennett said. ‘It went longer than I expected. Matt’s a great player, and he’s one of those stand-up guys.’”
In terms of the important things, Matt Forte did everything right in this negotiation. He wasn’t holding out with two years left on his deal. He played out his contract and his obligation. He didn’t have to sign anything. He could have held out of training camp as a matter of principal and signed the taken the almost $8 million franchise contract (still a lot of money) right before the first game and not lost a dime of it.
But those would have been the actions of an angry and prideful man and that’s not Forte. Instead, he did what was best for the team, took the offer and settled down to play football. Forte got more than long-term security yesterday. He got long-term respect.