Matt Forte Will Have a Tough Time Getting That Big Contract He Wants – Under-appreciated. Under-rated. Under-paid. Matt Forte is all three. For the last four seasons, Forte has been the most consistent member of the Bears’ offense. He has rushed for over 4,200 yards on just over 1,000 carries and has amassed a total of 21 touchdown runs. He even qualifies as Chicago’s most reliable receiver during his tenure, accumulating 223 receptions for 1,985 yards and 8 touchdowns. Forte had his brilliant 2011 campaign cut short by a season ending knee injury in Week 13. Before that, he was on pace to rank in the top 3 in all relevant running back categories. When Forte began voicing his displeasure with his contract status, fans nationwide showed their support and “PAY THE MAN!” became their rallying cry.
However, Forte and his legion of contract supporters may be in for a rude awakening. The day of the dominating, all-world half-back is done. The runningback position, which has given us Hall of Famers such as Jim Brown, Orenthal James “Absolutely, Positively, 100% Not Guilty” Simpson, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith to name a few, has undergone an evolution (or devolution?) of sorts in today’s NFL. Runningback by committee has become the rage throughout the league. The top runningback in 2012’s free agency class, Michael Bush, just signed with the Bears to backup Forte. Both Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch signed deals below their market value. Dropping big bucks into a feature back is a gamble teams are increasingly unlikely to take.
Let’s take a look at the recent history of running backs – After the 2005 season, in which he ran for almost 1,900 yards and scored a ridiculous 27 touchdowns, Seattle Seahawks runningback Shaun Alexander was named league MVP. The Seahawks rewarded this feat by giving Alexander an 8 year/$62 Million contract. And what was the return on the Seahawks investment? In his first six seasons in a Seattle uniform, Alexander rushed for about 7,800 yards and an insane 89 touchdowns. After signing the new deal, Alexander rushed for 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons, before finally being cut after the 2007 season.
Now let’s flash-forward to the 2011 season – After a contract hold out that forced him to miss all of training camp AND all preseason games, Chris Johnson signed a 4 year/$53.5 Million contract. After rushing for 2,006 yards in the 2009 season, the media fell in love and christened him “CJ2k”. Consecutive seasons ending with appearances in the Pro Bowl had Johnson feeling as if he’d outplayed his rookie contract, which lead to the holdout/new deal. Johnson proceeded to have a fairly subpar season, rushing for only 1,084. The drop in production lead to the media derisively referring to him as “CJ1k” and had fans calling for his release. The Titans didn’t react that drastically, but they along with the rest of the league, were on notice.
Adrian Peterson also signed a big money deal during the 2011 season. Since his entrance into the league in 2007, Peterson has been the standard bearer for today’s ‘backs, reminding NFL historians of both Jim Brown and Walter Payton. He runs with an almost violent, reckless abandon. He’s the type of ‘back that never tip-toes out of bounds as defenders surround him, always lowering his shoulder into the opposition to eek out that extra yard and a half. He would sign a 6 year/$100 Million deal early in the season, making him the highest paid runningback in NFL history. In Week 16 of the 2011 season, Adrian Peterson blew out both his ACL and MCL and now, the media in Minnesota is openly questioning whether or not he can be relied upon for the 2012 season. You think the Vikings want a chance at a do-over on that deal?
Which brings us back to Forte. He’s been my favorite Bear since his arrival in Chicago, appearing on all of my fantasy teams three out of his 4 years in the NFL. I’d very much like to see him reach a deal that keeps him in a Bears uniform for the foreseeable future – but at what cost? Recent history has shown us that giving a running back a big money, long-term deal could be bad business. The average lifespan for an NFL runningback is 3 seasons and Matt Forte is headed into his 5th. I think it’s fair to question just how much he has left in the tank. If it’s not much, wouldn’t it be smart to inquire about what you could get for him? I’m not pushing for the Bears to move on from Forte. But if you can’t keep him at a good price, you have to move him for whatever you can get for him.