Matt Forte: If Chicago Bears Slap Him with Franchise Tag, He Should Slap Back
Matt Forte needs to Bear down. If the Chicago Bears decide to slap the franchise tag on their franchise running back after this season, I personally feel it will be in Forte's best interest to hold out for a luxurious and secure long-term extension.
While I'm not exactly thrilled with the prospect of any big-time athlete holding out on his team, I think Forte's situation is so unique that anything other than a nice contract extension would be a slap in the face for Chicago's star running back.
After reading why, I think you'll agree.
The Market Price for Star Running Backs Significantly Higher
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Many of Matt Forte's peers have been handsomely rewarded for their services. So where's the love for the Bears running back?
Forte is making a paltry salary of $555,000 in 2011, the final season of his rookie contract. By comparison, Titans running back Chris Johnson inked a six-year, $56 million contract extension (with a $10 million signing bonus) in September.
The Vikings' Adrian Peterson also signed a lucrative extension in September for $100 million—$36 million guaranteed. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams received $43 million ($23 million guaranteed) this past offseason to remain a Carolina Panther and the oft-injured Frank Gore got $13 million guaranteed to stay in San Francisco.
You can argue that Forte has had a better 2011 than all of these wealthy running backs. That's why it's nonsensical for the Bears to short-change Forte instead of giving him a hefty bump in guaranteed money.
If the Bears Want To Topple the Packers, They Need Forte
Likewise, many pundits would safely say that the Chicago Bears possess one of the few defenses in the league capable of keeping Green Bay's potent offense in check. In fact, in his last four games against the Bears, Rodgers has tossed five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
But if for some reason the Bears struggle to contain the Packers offense, Chicago's next-best weapon against the Pack Attack is Matt Forte. Mr. Forte has proven that with 30 touches a game between running and catching the pigskin, he has the ability to keep the chains moving while keeping opposing quarterbacks on the sidelines.
And Rodgers can't beat the Bears if he's riding the bench the majority of the game. Let's face it: If the Bears want to get back to the Super Bowl, they're likely going to have to go through the Packers—now, and for the foreseeable future.
Forte's impact in this particular regard cannot be stressed enough.
The Bears Are Using Matt Forte and He Needs To Return the Favor
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It's no secret that NFL running backs take a beating. In fact, the average career span for a pro running back is just about two-and-a-half years—the shortest of any position.
So the clock is currently ticking on Matt Forte's career. Forte has already logged nearly 1,000 carries in his three-and-a-half-year NFL career and he's on pace for 300 carries once again this year.
Throw in over 200 career receptions, and you can make the case that the Bears have chewed Forte up and spit him out like a piece of gum. If Chicago continues to use Forte like this, I would have no problem with him holding the Bears hostage until he gets a secure, long-term deal.
The Bears have proven they clearly have no reservations in using Forte to get what they want on the field. Forte should have no problem using the Bears to get what he rightfully deserves off of it.
Can the Bears Truly Replace Him?
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When I contemplate the possibility of the Chicago Bears "tagging" Matt Forte as their franchise player, I hearken back to similar situations between the New England Patriots and offensive lineman Logan Mankins and the San Diego Chargers and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
Jackson is currently playing under the franchise tag for San Diego, while the Patriots made Mankins the team's franchise player before signing him to a long-term contract this past offseason. I had no problems with either the Pats or Bolts stringing their star players along under the controversial franchise tag because both Jackson and Mankins were fairly replaceable.
The Patriots offensive line didn't miss much of a beat when Mankins held out during the first half of the 2010 season. And although Philip Rivers's game has taken an alarming nosedive this year, Jackson hasn't exactly lit the league afire with his play this year, either.
In my mind, Mankins and Jackson are expendable; Forte isn't. I realize that the importance of running backs has diminished in a league that's become obsessed with passing.
Still, Forte's importance to Chicago's offense can't be understated. If quality running backs grew on trees, then every team would have a back of Forte's caliber. The problem is that not many teams do.
Although fans can endlessly debate Forte's impact, I feel we'll ultimately decide just how vital Forte is to the Bears in the coming weeks...
With Jay Cutler Out, Forte May Become Even More Valuable to the Bears
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I say we'll find out how valuable Matt Forte is to the Chicago Bears in the second half of the year because he'll be at the center of attention from here on out. That's because Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his broken right thumb won't be making an appearance anytime soon.
Nobody's debating that Cutler and Forte are Chicago's two most valuable offensive players. Now that Cutler's sidelined, one can realistically declare that the Bears' offensive hopes—and perhaps playoff hopes—rest on Forte's shoulders.
How he produces in the second half of 2011 will go a long way of determining his future in a Bears uniform. If he single-handedly carries both the Bears offense and the Bears themselves to the playoffs and beyond, then there's no way Bears GM Jerry Angelo can justify slapping him with the franchise tag; he'll have proven he's worthy of a lucrative long-term extension.
However, if he can't handle being the focal point of every opposing defense from here on out and falls flat on his face, that will prove that Cutler—not Forte—is Chicago's MVP. If that happens, Forte will be begging for the franchise tag.
I'm rooting for the former to happen, simply because I think Cutler needs Forte to succeed, and not vice versa.