There can be little doubt that Matt Forte is beginning to solidify his position as the best running back the Chicago Bears have had since Walter Payton. Before getting injured towards the end of last season, he was having one of his best years, and was at times, literally carrying the offense. He has proven himself as a dual threat in the NFL, capable of running the ball and receiving it out of the backfield. The four-year player out of Tulane has a good burst of speed through the line of scrimmage, and is deceptively quick once out in the open field. He is widely regarded as one the league's elite running backs.
It is for these reasons alone that the Chicago Bears need to make sure they sign Forte to the type of contract he deserves.
In the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the Bears possibly using the franchise tag on Forte. New general manager Phil Emery has said,
"It is a tool that has been collectively bargained that is fair to the player and fair to the club." When asked about contract negotiations, he added, "We won't discuss those things. We won't discuss the contract status of a player, where he's at on our team in terms of our needs and where his talent is. Those are internal matters that we will not discuss just from a competitive aspect, and now showing our opponent our cards."
So it might be fair to assume that the Bears are considering using the franchise tag on Forte this coming year.
Matt Forte has himself spoke recently about the possibility of his club using the tag on him. He told ESPN 1000, "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."
And I agree with Forte. The Bears really need to make sure they don't let this one slip away. Part of me thinks they should just give the man whatever it takes to make him the main man in the Windy City for years to come. He is a huge part of their offense and we saw how badly he was missed when he went down with injury. Granted, Chicago was also without their quarterback, Jay Cutler, but Forte's absence was clearly felt. Marion Barber was not enough to fill the gap, and third-stringer Kahlil Bell (a personal favorite of mine), showed some bright sparks, but he's clearly no Matt Forte.
It was a positive sign to hear Bears' president Ted Phillips say that they had no intention of letting Forte become a free agent. That's not to say they won't be slapping him with the franchise tag, but it at least sends out a public message that they do see him as a valuable member of the team, and one that they want to stick around.
At the beginning of the season, Forte did however turn down an offer of between $13 million to $14 million in guaranteed money. Some might see that as greedy, but I think Forte felt that compared to other running backs in the league, it was a a little on the low side. In a way, and without being irresponsible, the Bears need to break the bank on this deal. Do what it takes, and pay Forte.
The deadline for clubs to franchise players is February 20, and if both parties can't thrash out a new contract by that time, we will no doubt see Forte playing under the franchise tag.
My hope is that between now and the next few months, Matt Forte signs a long-term deal with the Bears. A deal that rewards him for his contribution, and acknowledges the fact that he is one of the best in the NFL. The Bears should feel fortunate he plays for them right now and not one of the other 31 teams in the league.