It isn’t often I look at an NFL contract dispute and take the side of the franchise.
Holdouts are nothing new in the realm of the National Football League. Big name franchise players are doing so as I type (Drew Brees, Maurice Jones-Drew, possibly Darrell Revis). But one contract situation I’ve held off on commenting on for some time has been the one between the Chicago Bears and running back Matt Forte.
I get that the shelf life of a running back isn’t very long. When you consider that LaDanian Tomlinson recently retired at age 33 that gives you an idea of how short careers are. Others such as Eddie George (31), Shaun Alexander (31), Jamal Anderson (29;injury) are others who were done at a young age from one of the more grueling positions in all of professional sports. But when I look at the numbers for Matt Forte, I don’t see a guy who is top-5 in the league. I don’t even see top-10. I see a very nice piece of the puzzle for the Chicago Bears who, at age 26, who is in the second level of backs and with the franchise tag I feel is priced about where he should be considering the production.
Recently the Bears’ running back reiterated that he wanted to be paid “market value” for his services but which market is where the divide comes in. Statistically he’s not in the top-tier of running backs that signed deals like Arian Foster (5-years $43.5 million/$20.75 guaranteed) or LeSean McCoy (5-year $45 million/$20 million guaranteed). To say so would mean he would have had to have led the league in either rushing or rushing touchdowns which he has not. Ever.
In fact the closest he’s come in either category was in 2008 when he finished seventh in the league in rushing yards (1,238). His versatility can be an asset, but that doesn’t separate him enough when you consider McCoy is on pace to duplicate or pass his receiving numbers before his 25th birthday and Foster has over 600-yards receiving each of the last two years to go with a league leading rushing total in 2010 (1,616) and a top-5 performance in 2011.
Forte, for the record, is a fine running back; but even when compared to Atlanta’s Michael Turner, who has finished every season apart from his injury season in 2009 with over 1,300-yards rushing, is currently at $15-million guaranteed. And while a that can be attributed to his backup status coming over from San Diego he has yet to hold out or ask for a different contract despite being a top-10 back three of the last four years.
As I stated earlier, it isn’t often that I take the side of the franchise, but Forte may have placed the Bears in a precarious situation with his demands because he is pricing himself at a ceiling he hasn’t reached. The NFL also isn’t generally one to reward past performance so quickly because of the injury factor. So you couple that with the fact that even with Forte being as durable as he has been in his career to this point and hasn’t broken into the upper-echelon of league backs and you can see the Bears reluctance in a big-money long-term investment.
Forte should pay considerable attention to Maurice Jones-Drew and what happens with his contract in Jacksonville. By establishing himself as a top-10 back in the league Drew, who appears to be content with a holdout, and Forte have displayed the same pension for racking up yards from scrimmage will ultimately set the market for a back like Forte. While Drew is a top-10 runner the last two seasons, Forte has been more versatile in catching the ball and making plays as a receiving back. That makes him comparable to Drew whose limitations in size mixed with the amount of carries could be a sticking point in his own negotiations.
Everyone deserves to get paid their contributions. Forte may want to consider meeting the Bears at a realistic number in order to maximize his true value.