Earlier this month Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was a guest on Maurice Jones-Drew’s SiriusXM Radio show. One of the topics of conversation that came up was that Forte is scheduled to play this year on the final year of a four-year $3,781,000 deal that will pay him $550,000. Forte’s first NFL contract contained a $2 million guarantee with a signing bonus of $1.533 million. He made $295,000 in 2008, $385,000 in 2009, and $470,000 in 2010.
“I hope the Bears feel I deserve a new contract,” Forte said on the show. “This league is based on production, and the last three years, I’ve produced very well for our offense. I think production speaks for itself.”
Forte who won’t turn 26 until December 10th was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 44th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft out of Tulane. Since the day he arrived on the scene, he has been the Bears number one offensive option. In three seasons Forte has rushed for 3,236 yards and caught passes for another 1,495 yards scoring 23 TDs.
In 2010, Forte led the team in rushing with 1,069 yards and in receptions with 51. The now 4th year running back led the team in receptions his rookie season, was second in the team in catches in 2009, and has led the Bears in rushing each of his first three NFL seasons. His 288 total touches last season accounted for more than 30 percent of Chicago’s entire offense.
The Chicago Bears went 11-5 last season winning the NFC North and were awarded a playoff bye. They won seven of their final nine games, not with their vaunted defense, not with Jay Cutler’s arm, but with Matt Forte’s legs. In a very unlike Mike Martz stat, during November and December, Chicago was the only team in the league that ran the football more than it passed.
During the playoff bye week last season, Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith was asked why they had run the ball so much. Given that pass happy Mike Martz was the offensive coordinator, this question was viewed as very appropriate, perhaps more appropriate than for many teams. Smith replied, “When you have a player like Matt Forte why wouldn’t you want to run the football?”
Now that the lockout is over, the Chicago Bears have the same problem that every NFL team has. The Bears not only have to worry about re-signing their own players, but they also have to deal with signing draft picks, undrafted free agents, free agents and making trades, all within an accelerated compacted amount of time. Given that Forte would like a new contract before the year starts, and seemingly deserves one, how does he go about creating a sense of urgency without holding out?
I asked Robert London, Vice President at Dow Lohnes Sports & Entertainment, whose firm represents Forte that very question earlier today and he was pretty clear that Forte would be where he had to be, when he had to be there. London did point out however, that the level of production that Matt Forte produces at creates a sense of urgency all by itself.
“There’s no doubt that this isn’t a normal year and I know that teams have a lot going on but we have a few weeks here,” said London, alluding to the fact that starting running backs such as Forte don’t really play much until the third preseason game anyway. “Matt accounted for something like 30% of the Bears total offensive production,” he said. “Take a look at Adrian Peterson in Minnesota or Chris Johnson in Tennessee,” London added. “These are running backs that are universally accepted as the best in the game. Matt’s numbers are right there.”
After I hung up the phone with London, I immediately juxtaposed Forte’s 2010 numbers to both those of Peterson and Johnson, and wouldn’t you know it, he was in fact “right there”.
- (2010 season) Matt Forte – 1,616 yards from scrimmage, 9 TDs
- (2010 season) Adrian Peterson – - 1,639 yards from scrimmage, 13 TDs
- (2010 season) Chris Johnson – 1,609 yards from scrimmage, 12 TDs
Incentives and escalators have pushed Adrian Peterson’s 2011 base salary to $10.2 million. Chris Johnson is schedule to make $800,000 as a base salary this season and Johnson’s agent, Joel Segal, has already gone on record stating that, “He’s clearly outplayed his rookie contract” and that Johnson is looking for a new deal.
The team’s argument when a player wants to renegotiate his contract is simple. They don’t get to renegotiate a player’s guaranteed contract downward if he performs poorly, so why should a player get to renegotiate if he plays above the contract? I’ll say this about the Forte situation. Matt Forte has proven in his first three seasons that he is a skilled athlete who has gone about his business in a professional manner representing the Chicago Bears very well and enhancing the value of the team. Forte is durable and has started all 48 games of his pro football career and his on field production speaks for itself. If there’s anyone who deserves to have their deal renegotiated, it’s Matt Forte.
As I read the NFL landscape, my gut tells me that Chris Johnson may hold out in order to get what he feels he deserves, while Matt Forte continues to respectfully request that his deal be renegotiated to something more in the order of what a player of his stature should receive. This is a business however and these athletes have a very short span of time to make their money. If I were the Chicago Bears, I would do what is necessary to make certain that they keep their number one offensive threat happy and on the field. At some point in this process, if this drags out, Matt Forte may have no choice but to stop being politically correct and do what he needs to do to take care of himself and his family.
BTW – Chester Taylor, Forte’s backup signed a $12.5 million deal, with $7 million guaranteed in the first year last season. In addition to the guaranteed $7 million he pocketed last year, he’ll make $1.275 million this year, $1.75 million in 2012 and $2.425 million in 2013. I’m just saying……
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