Bears Notebook: Bears sitting pretty in Forte contract situation

October 24th, 2011 - 7:01 pm
Forte is having a record season, but the Bears aren't going to invest while his stock is so high.

Forte is having a record season, but the Bears aren't going to invest while his stock is so high.

Just how big a victory for the Bears was their 24-18 triumph over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London on Sunday?

Apparently not so much considering talk of Matt Forte’s contract situation dominated print and the airwaves on Monday.

With all due respect to those on Forte’s side of the line demanding that general manager Jerry Angelo pony up the dough and give Forte a lucrative contract extension, please place your pitchforks and flaming sticks on the ground and back away slowly.

Angelo and the Bears front office had a figure in mind at the beginning of the season and Forte’s camp had a much higher one. Neither side was willing to concede too much and they broke off talks for what they said would be the remainder of the season.

The only thing Forte has been able to do is go out and perform at a high level and he could be on his way to a Pro Bowl season.

While I empathize with Forte — he’s clearly outplayed his contract and is more valuable than the half-million dollars he’s being paid in the final year of his contract — he does not hold the leverage in these negotiations.

For starters, he’s a running back, which is the position with the shortest life span in pro football. Running backs in the NFL are used, abused, and then recycled like bottles of water. Forte is already in his fourth season and will turn 26 in December.

Franchises don’t give players lucrative contracts based on what they’ve done in the past; they give players contracts based on how they feel those players will perform over the course of those deals. And Forte, who is in the midst of a great season, appears to be entering his prime right now, which is the wrong time to give a guy a new deal.

The cardinal rule of investments is to buy low and sell high, so why would Angelo and the Bears give Forte a new, expensive deal when his value is so high — perhaps at the highest point it’ll ever be?

That’s where some fans and analysts have this whole situation incorrect. For every great game that Forte produces this season, it does not make it more likely the Bears will pay him. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

If you’re a fan who wants Forte to get paid because you appreciate what he’s doing and you don’t want to lose him, then fear not. He’s not going anywhere. The Bears can apply the franchise tag on him and pay him less than he’s demanding next season — the average of the five highest running back contracts.

No changes were made to the franchise tag in the new collective bargaining agreement, so the Bears can apply the tag the season after next, too. At that point, Forte will have played in his sixth NFL season, will be 28 years old, and will have accumulated a lot of hard yards if he continues to account for such a large percentage of the Bears offense. It is unlikely any team would offer the type of contract Forte is seeking, so he’d have to lower his demands. At that point, the Bears can re-sign him for less than he is currently seeking or they could cut ties with the older running back and start fresh with a 22-year-old out of college.

As you can see, there is no sense of urgency from the Bears’ side of the table in this contract negotiation, so any calls by fans or the media for the Bears to pay Forte what he deserves are futile.

Forte on pace for record season

Further reason why the Bears should not invest in Forte at the moment is because his stock is rising rapidly. Through seven games, Forte currently has 1,091 yards — 672 rushing and 419 receiving. That 155.8 yards-per-game average has him on pace to record 2,493 yards from scrimmage, which would leave him 16 yards shy of Chris Johnson’s single-season record of 2,509, set in 2009.

That would be a fantastic season for Forte, to be sure, but not likely to be duplicated again. Evidence? Johnson got a big contract from the Titans and the speedster is a borderline bust this year, averaging 2.9 yards per carry and ranked 32nd with 268 rushing yards.

Bears look like defense of old with four interceptions

The Bears resembled the same opportunistic defense they had been a few years ago under Lovie Smith while intercepting Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman four times and winning the turnover battle.

Statistics lean heavily in favor of the team that wins the turnover battle, so that’s an encouraging sign. What’s more, the defensive line did not create much pressure on Freeman outside of Julius Peppers. Amobi Okoye recorded the lone sack for the Bears and it appeared to be a coverage sack. The impressive thing about the interceptions were that they occurred with a bit of athleticism from those who recorded them. Brian Urlacher had a leaping interception, Chris Conte stole the ball away from the receiver, and Lance Briggs and D.J. Moore did a good job of stepping in throwing lanes while reading the quarterback’s eyes.

Chris Harris could be on his way back to the bench

The Bears have two weeks to recuperate until their next game and that could be plenty of time for Major Wright to rest his hip injury. Veteran Chris Harris had to step in and start for Wright against the Buccaneers and he continued to show reasons why Smith benched him after the Lions game.

Not only did he drop an interception that hit him in the hands, but he also blew his coverage against wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe on a 24-yard touchdown pass that brought the Buccaneers to within three points late in the game.

Smith said those guys who perform on the field and make plays will be the ones who play, and although Wright has made his fair share of mistakes, he’ll bring more to the table than Harris has this season.

Offensive line starting to jell

Let’s be clear that the Bears offensive line leaves a lot to be desired, but for a team that can’t exactly sign players off the street to improve, the offensive line has shown reasons for the Bears to be encouraged moving forward.

Jay Cutler currently is tied with St. Louis’ Sam Bradford for the league lead in sacks absorbed with 21. Only seven of those sacks have come in the last four games, including three in the last two games.

Chris Spencer has played well at right guard and Lance Louis has performed at right tackle, making the decision that much more difficult for the Bears coaching staff on what to do when rookie Gabe Carimi is able to play again.

Daryl “Moose” Johnston’s suit something out of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine

Finally, a non-Bears tidbit: what was up with Daryl Johnston’s suit? The former Cowboys fullback and color commentator for the Bears game on Sunday was wearing something that looked like a bad couch upholstery.

My first instinct was to add a picture of it to this post, but I figured most of you were watching the game and remember it quite vividly. For those of you who were listening to the radio or missed it: let’s just say that some things are better left unseen.