Matt Forte continues to boycott the Chicago Bears' spring mini-camps and organized team activities in protest of not receiving a long-term contract offer. It will not surprise anyone if he skips the remaining OTAs and even the full minicamp in mid-June. He may even skip the start of training camp, hoping to force the Bears to give him the long-term deal that he wants.
However, when the Bears take the field against Indianapolis on Sept. 9, Forte will be right there with them.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the rules for franchise tag players have changed. For 2012, running backs will make about $7.7 million per year compared to $9.6 million per year in 2011. Despite the big reduction, it is still more than twice the value of Forte's rookie contract, which paid him about $3.78 million over his first four seasons. At $481,000 per game, he'll make more by the second week of 2012 than he did for the entire 2011 season. Forte might want a long-term deal, but he is not going to pass up a pay increase like that.
To make matters worse for Forte, the Bears signed free-agent running back Michael Bush from Oakland. Both he and Forte have been in the NFL for four seasons, but Bush has more than 500 fewer touches. Last season, Bush had almost 1,400 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns despite splitting time with Darren McFadden. Bush's four-year, $14 million contract keeps him with the Bears through 2015, and the longer that Forte holds out, the more playing time Bush will get. Forte cannot afford to give Bush a chance to replace him as the starting back in Chicago.
Finally, the Bears have concerns about Forte's long-term durability. Despite Forte's agent calling these concerns "absurd," Chicago does have good reason to be proceed with caution. In 2006, he tore the PCL in his left knee and he sprained the MCL of the same knee in 2009, requiring arthroscopic surgery. Forte missed the last four games of 2011 season with a sprained MCL in his right knee. Although he did not need surgery to repair the damage, it makes sense that Chicago would want to see Forte in action before making a long-term commitment.
Right now, the Bears hold all the cards. If Forte continues to hold out, the Bears save money and gain even more leverage on him with Michael Bush expanding his role. At the end of the season, they can apply the franchise tag on him again for $9.24 million, which is still less than the cost back in 2011. By the end of 2013, he will have an even harder time getting a long-term deal. And if he misses any time due to injury during the next two seasons, he will never find a team willing to commit to him long term.
Forte's best chance to land his long-term deal is to sign the current tender offer, show up and dominate this season like he did last year before the injury. Another solid season will silence the injury concerns and prove to the Bears that he can't be easily replaced.
Forte may believe holding out will eventually get him the deal he desires. In reality, his best option is to sign the current offer, show up and prove he deserves a long-term commitment from Chicago. He'll receive a huge pay increase in the process, and the Bears will have a key component in their quest to reach the postseason.