New Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery was named to his post this past January, and he has spent the ensuing months claiming ownership over this Bears team.
From trading for troublesome but talented wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the eve of free agency to bringing in Michael Bush and Jason Campbell to ensure that there would not be the drastic drop-off if starters went down again this year, to presiding over his first draft and infusing the roster with young talent on both offense (Alshon Jeffrey) and defense (Shea McClellin)—it can't be denied that Emery has presided over the Bears' offseason with the assurance of a man who is confident in what he wants and who is unafraid to go and get it.
Looming over the entire proceeding, however, has been the contract situation with running back Matt Forte. Forte's contract was probably the most talked about non-move of the past two years, and no matter what else Emery did, it hung over the Bears organization like a silent albatross.
The Bears didn't need to make this move. Forte had little leverage and no other real options other than to sign his tender and play out the year—and then get tendered again next year.
Apparently, Emery felt it wiser to give Forte $18 million guaranteed and to hope he lasts for the duration of his four-year deal, rather than go year to year. I actually thought the latter was the wiser of the two approaches, but then again I think paying any running back big money is the wrong way to go about building a team in the modern NFL.
The one thing that can be said with near certainty is that the Bears will lean a bit more heavily on the running game this year, while trotting out much of what is considered a poor offensive line.
If Forte has shown one thing, it's an ability to produce yards behind said porous line and with great efficiency. Forte was leading the league in yards from scrimmage before he was injured last season. Obviously, a good part of that was via catching passes out of the backfield, but Forte has shown he is able to run between the tackles, off tackle, around the tackle—anywhere, really.
No doubt that ability and versatility is what ultimately led Emery to ink Forte to the new deal (funny how those concerns the Bears supposedly had about his knees seemed to have disappeared right around deadline time...) along with the message this signing undoubtedly sends to the locker room.
Who will win the NFC North?
Few players have had so many players, both on his own team and around the league, go to bat for him publicly the way Forte has the past two years.
Emery can now point to this deal as an example of his rewarding a player who has produced for the franchise at a high level and who should have several more productive years in the organization—without things getting truly contentious.
Yes, there was some minor back and forth in the media this offseason, but most of that was leftover acrimony between Forte and the previous administration.
One other quick note that I want to include here: Earlier this offseason I called Emery's trade for Marshall a "desperate move"—looking back and seeing how he has upgraded and bolstered the roster throughout the spring and summer, I can say this: I was wrong.
I don't think it was a desperate move, but a calculated risk. It may still blow up in his face, but Emery has shown, at least to me, the makings of a man with a methodical plan.
This is now Emery's team—and it has a very good chance of not only winning the division but making a deep postseason run, thanks in large part to the moves made by its new general manager.