Forte seeking contract soon as reward for success
Bears running back's numbers proof of enhanced worth under higher salary cap
Bears running back Matt Forte runs for a 24-yard gain against the Green Bay Packers during the 1st quarter of their NFC Championship game. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Tribune photo)
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By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter 8:21 p.m. CDT, July 23, 2011
Matt Forte doesn't have to sell himself. His numbers provide proof of his worth.
The Bears running back is ranked fifth in the league in yards from scrimmage (4,731) since 2008, joined Walter Payton as the only Bears to notch 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season and accumulated 1,400-plus yards from scrimmage in each of his first three seasons, the only player in franchise history to accomplish such a feat. Not to mention Forte's 294 yards from scrimmage in last year's playoffs.
No one should fault Forte for holding his hand out for a contract extension.
"Any time a player has been producing very well,'' Forte said, "they're going to come back and say, 'Hey, throw me a bone here.' "
But he isn't paid like a top dog yet. And if he's not during training camp, it might become an issue.
One could argue the fourth-year pro from Tulane is the most underpaid back in the league. Forte, who is due a base salary of $550,000 in the final year of his rookie contract, isn't even the highest-paid running back on the team. Backup Chester Taylor is scheduled to make $1.25 million after pulling in $7 million last season while averaging 2.4 yards per carry. Forte finished at 4.5.
Forte had wanted to sign an extension before the start of practice in Bourbonnais, tentatively scheduled for later this week.
"I think we're going about it the right way,'' he said. "My agent, Adisa Bakari, talked to (general manager) Jerry Angelo and Cliff Stein last season, just letting them know that we've been producing.
"And now that it's close to training camp, we don't have much time to negotiate.''
Forte's message was subtle and clear. But with 14 players set to hit the open market once the new collective bargaining agreement is approved, the Bears have a full plate of transactions on their table. They are projected to be $37 million below the newly proposed $120 million salary cap.
Forte might nudge the Bears a bit without becoming a distraction.
"It never benefits anybody — a player or organization — to hold out or miss practices,'' Forte said. "That's obviously something I wouldn't want to do.''
Bakari imagines the Bears are on the same page.
"We hope the Bears recognize the performance Matt has given to date and that they value that performance,'' the agent said.
Forte, 25, declined to talk financial terms that obviously would include substantial guaranteed money, yet he had no qualms discussing its duration.
"A long-term deal would be, I guess, five years,'' he said. "That's a long time for a running back to play. "Five years? That's beating the odds.''
He has been doing that since Day 1.
Forte, sitting alongside wife Danielle, whom he married July 16, laughed when asked if he was surprised about his NFL success.
"Honestly, no,'' he said. "I know God has blessed me with the talent to play football, so I have to use it to the best of my ability. I always expected to be the best or one of the best.
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