Other backs seem to be setting price for Forte
Recent signings seem to establish value at roughly $20 million guaranteed in long-term deal
Matt Forte during an interview with Brad Biggs at the Humidor of Westmont. (Corey R. Minkanic/Photo for the Tribune / May 17, 2012)
Enough comparable running backs have received contracts in the last year for the Bears and Matt Forte to discover some common ground on a long-term deal.
Whether the sides can accomplish that with the franchise tag hanging over Forte for the 2012 season remains to be seen.
His agent, Adisa Bakari, has been in town for a couple of days. It's anyone's guess if he has spent face-to-face time negotiating with new general manager Phil Emery.
If not, he has been managing expectations for a player that has been seeking a new deal for more than a year.
Bakari, who also has Maurice Jones-Drewtrolling for a new contract with the Jaguars with two years remaining on his deal, declined comment Thursday on Forte's situation even with what on the surface is good news.
While Forte was traveling to an appearance Thursday in Westmont, the Eagles announced a five-year contract for running back LeSean McCoy. He had one year remaining on his deal and reports are the package is worth up to $45 million with $20.765 million guaranteed.
Forte, 26, stands to earn $7.742 million this season with the franchise tag if he cannot strike a multi-year agreement before the 3 p.m. deadline July 16. Forte also declined to answer questions surrounding his situation or the McCoy news that seemingly bolsters his position.
Forte's reticence is in stark contrast to last season when he regularly was candid about his frustration, something that spilled out once this offseason when he vented on Twitter after the Bears' signing of running back Michael Bush.
Bears President Ted Phillips said in March the club had made a "strong offer" to Forte, who has not participated in the team's voluntary offseason workout program. He cannot be fined for missing mandatory minicamp next month because he is not under contract.
What is the Bears' stance? The most Emery has said is the team continues to work on a deal. Former Packers contract negotiator Andrew Brandt probably summed up the team's stance perfectly.
"The hardest position to sink long-term money into is running back because it has the shortest shelf life," Brandt told the Philadelphia Daily News. "There's a graveyard of bad contracts that were given to running backs over a certain age going back to Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Jamal Anderson and Shaun Alexander."
Recent pay days Forte will examine, along with the McCoy deal, are contracts given to Arian Foster ($20.75 million guaranteed), DeAngelo Williams ($21 million guaranteed) and Marshawn Lynch ($17 million guaranteed). Unless he's gunning for a pay day like Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson received, those seem to be backs that create a range for Forte and the Bears.
As for football, just as quarterback Jay Cutler has embraced the change to offensive coordinator Mike Tice, Forte believes it means big things for him.
"I know Coach Tice loves running the ball and I am a running back," he said. "Just looking at when he came from Jacksonville and he had Maurice and Fred Taylor there, they ran the ball tremendously every year."
Forte showed up for training camp last summer in the best shape of his career with a more defined upper body. He said he feels better now than he did then, and he's working out with former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris regularly now that he's staying in the area.
"Last year during the lockout we kind of trained but we didn't know what schedule we were on," he said. "It's kind of like that. I found a trainer who basically does the same stuff up here (as the one I had in Florida). It has been very convenient for me."
The Bears want to make sure they are paying Forte for future performance, not rewarding him for previous accomplishments. He has been a durable performer before the knee sprain that cost him the final four games of 2011, averaging 19.4 touches per game over the last two seasons.
The club's approach seems curious, at best. Since signing Thomas Jones to a $10 million, four-year contract in 2004, the Bears have paid a lot of money to all the wrong running backs. Cedric Benson left after three seasons with $13.8 million, and to get him on the field ex-general manager Jerry Angelo had to give Jones away. More recently, the Bears wasted $9.5 million the last two seasons on Chester Taylor and Marion Barber.
When the Bears signed Bush to a $14 million, four-year deal with half of it guaranteed, Forte tweeted he was "disrespected." That's one way of putting it. Bush will earn $5 million this season so that is $14.5 million to Forte's three backups over a course of three seasons.
There is a little less than two months for the Bears to carve out a deal for the one running back who appears to deserve a commitment. Otherwise, the sides could go through the whole franchise tag dance again next year.
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