Matt Forte’, the dynamic 26 year old running back for the Chicago Bears, continues to be mired in a contract dispute that threatens to get uglier before it gets better. This holdout feels different, both sides are entrenched and the clock is ticking. As of today, the parties have just over five weeks to resolve their multi-million dollar difference of opinion before Forte’ ultimately gets the final say. As of July 16th, if Forte’ remains unsigned, he will be forced to sign his franchise tag offer or watch his teammates play out the season without him. Long term contracts must wait until following the season. We’ve all seen this pattern play out before.
This time it feels different, though.
In 2011, Forte’ was on his way to his most productive year as a professional. Until his week 12 injury against Kansas City, when he suffered a grade two knee sprain that would end his season, Forte’ was on pace for over 1,400 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving, both well above his career high to date. Even more impressive was his consistent ability to churn out yardage with each touch, averaging nearly five yards per carry (4.9). But that was 2011. Things have changed and not in the favor of Forte’.
Prior to the 2012 NFL draft, the Bears acquired the talented Michael Bush from Oakland. The big back with good hands out of the backfield has a game that looks a lot Forte’s. He’s not as shifty, but he brings a dynamic and game-productivity all the same. Bush is a good blocker in passing situations and is a dual threat despite his bigger size. Given the fact that Kahlil Bell filled in admirably when Forte’ suffered his injury, the addition of Bush spoke volumes about the sequence of events that Chicago’s brass expected following the draft. The acquisition of Bush looks to be as much about leverage as it was about protection.
Fast forward to today and there are no signs of movement from either side. OTA’s have been completed and the Bears training camp opens on July 26th. Forte’ is insistent in his desire for a long-term deal and the Bears are insistent that he first sign his franchise tag offer in order to begin negotiations. While this dance has played out many times before, usually concluding with a signature and a desire to play by the player, the disrespect that Forte’ is feeling could well stay his hand and lead him out of Chicago. Don’t expect the Bears to be the first to pull the wheel in this high stakes game of chicken. They have their insurance policy, are prepared for this event and, as further salt in the wound, have now reportedly claimed they have concerns over the long-term health of Forte’s arthritic knees.
What’s a dynasty coach to do?
Matt Forte’ still checks in with a middle second round grade and is our RB8 in our most recent consensus rankings. But as his holdout continues and days march on, expect his value to begin to slide. The Bears have a suitable replacement in Bush, still possess an adequate backup in Kahlil Bell and, most importantly, have all the leverage. Unless Forte’ agrees to play under a one-year agreement for $7.7M, it’s going to get ugly for Forte’ and his owners. In the end, the disrespect that Forte’ is feeling is enough for him to dig in as well. With three and a half years until that less-than-magical thirtieth birthday, he fully understands that a one-year deal followed by another knee injury could be his last. The resolution in this affair is simply going to come down to Forte’s desire to collect a one-year paycheck. I don’t see Chicago budging from their stance. And quite frankly, I don’t see Forte’ budging from his.
The longer this saga stretches on, the more dynasty owners have to be concerned. Should Forte’ decide to sign on the bottom line, we simply can’t expect a return to previous production given the variables in play. If he doesn’t, his value drops precipitously. This year is not shaping up well for fantasy owners of Forte’ and you’ve now reached the point where his trade value will be seriously impacted. If you are looking to acquire him in trade, it’s time to start your pitch. If you’re looking to sell, it’s not likely that you can do so aggressively as the sharks in your league will smell blood. It’s a buyer’s market.
In the end, I believe Forte’s days in Chicago may be over. Chicago has little incentive for anything other than allowing the franchise tag process to play itself out. Forte’ has 7.7 million reasons to sign, but has to consider the rest of his career with one last contract looming. The best result for both parties at this juncture is a trade to greener pastures. Either way, for 2012 at least, it’s quickly shaping up to be a disappointing year for Forte’ and his owners.
I’ve always liked Matt Forte’ as a back. He was a relatively unheralded rookie who rose from the ranks by keeping his talk to a minimum and his production at a maximum. He’s been one of the most durable backs over his career and became a dual threat from his first game in 2008. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played and goes to work in a workmanlike fashion. Simply put, he’s easy to root for. Everything about this situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth in how I view Chicago’s management. I understand it’s a business and sometimes in business you have to make tough decisions.
Sometimes business decisions just don’t feel very good.