Elite NFL running backs are fast becoming expendable.
Just ask Matt Forte.
After the Chicago Bears and Forte failed to see eye-to-eye earlier in the re-signing process, the team decided to offer the running back the franchise tag to keep him from hitting the open market.
In response, Forte has since threatened to hold out of the Bears' offseason workouts.
According to the Chicago Tribune, new general manager Phil Emery has said the two sides are still negotiating:
We continue to work with Matt and his agent in that effort. I'm not going to get into details, but we continue to work with each other to find common ground. Obviously, we want Matt to be a Bear for the long term. We're working toward that resolution.
The Bears have since bolstered their roster by adding the best running back on the open market in Michael Bush.
Per NFL Network's Jason La Canfora:
RB Michael Bush deal with Bears 4yrs $14m, $7m guar #freeagency— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 22, 2012
It's a deal worth $3.5 million per year—a far cry from the type of money Forte has been looking for, not to mention that the Bears are only on the hook for $7 million.
That's less than they would be paying Forte for one year if he were to sign the franchise tag, which is at $7.7 million.
In essence, the Bears have put themselves in a no-lose situation. Even if Forte decides to hold out from now until kingdom come, the team won't miss a beat.
I'm not in any way trying to suggest that Bush equals Forte. What I am saying is that the line between elite and serviceable at the running back position these days is blurry at best.
The NFL is a passing league, a quarterback-driven league.
In Chicago, Jay Cutler—not Matt Forte—runs the show. While Forte is exceptionally gifted on the field, he is only a cog in the machine, not the man running the machine.
When the Minnesota Vikings paid Adrian Peterson in the offseason (seven-year, $96 million), I was stunned at the lack of perception on their part. They were still stuck in the past. You don't pay running backs that kind of money in the NFL any more.
Emery and the Bears understand this truth.
Running backs, elite or otherwise, are going to get injured. Their shelf-lives are extremely limited.
Just ask the Vikings.
Is Matt Forte expendable?
The Bears made the right decision to bring in Bush. To be honest, the deal they made with him is a steal.
Last year, Bush only started nine games. However, he still managed to run for nearly 1,000 yards and score seven touchdowns on the ground. Additionally, he caught 37 passes for 418 yards and one touchdown.
He will be more than adequate to handle full-time starting duties for the Bears in 2012 if Forte should decide to pout all year long and miss the season.
What's more, if Forte wants to come back, the Bears would then have the best one-two punch at the position in the league.
You can win in the NFL without an elite running back. Forte needs to come to that realization and lower his expectations a bit.
Otherwise, he'll be the only one upset at the end of the day because Bush gives the Bears all the talent they need to succeed next year and beyond.
Fans in Chicago must be falling in love with Emery—finally, a man with some football sense!