The length of negotiations and the fact Bears running back Matt Forte hasn’t agreed to terms on the team’s contract offer of in the neighborhood of up to $15 million in guaranteed money indicates a couple of issues likely exist between the sides.
There’s the possibility that Forte is seeking a deal worth similar money or even more than the contract signed by Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams, who received $43 million over five years, including $21 million guaranteed. Then again, Forte not agreeing to terms on the team’s latest proposal might also indicate the deal is closer to -- or potentially worth less -- than the deal signed by 49ers running back Frank Gore, who this week signed a three-year extension worth $21 million that included $13.5 million guaranteed.
Since coming into the NFL in 2008 as a second-rounder out of Tulane, Forte ranks fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (4,731) behind Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and St. Louis' Steven Jackson.
Williams isn't among those top producers. But his deal set the record at the running back position, previously held by Jackson, who signed a six-year contract in 2008 worth $44 million that included $20 million guaranteed. Yet Williams has gained 1,304 fewer yards from scrimmage than Forte in the same time span, while scoring just three more touchdowns (28).
But as NFC North blogger Kevin Seiffert pointed out, negotiations for running backs are usually based on the potential for contributions in the future, as opposed to production in the past.
Forte, 25, is younger than both Gore and Williams, 28, and has been more productive than Williams, with just 23 more touches (a combined 982 carries and receptions). So it would be logical to expect the Bears to extend an offer closer to the one signed by Williams.
But the fact Williams was an unrestricted free agent whose contract expired -- while Forte still has one year and $600,000 remaining on his original rookie deal -- indicates the Bears were likely more inclined to offer a deal closer to pacts signed by Gore and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who signed a six-year contract worth $32 million ($10 million guaranteed).
Gore has racked up nearly 700 more touches than Forte over his career, which logically, puts the Bears running back in line for a more lucrative deal.
It’s likely the Bears don’t see it the same way, which is apparent when considering the team used Charles’ contract as the baseline for a potential deal with Forte, not to mention the fact he hasn’t agreed to the team’s latest offer.
The Bears own the option of letting Forte play out the 2011 for his base salary of $600,000 and later placing the franchise tag on him to prevent him from entering 2012 free agency. But it’s possible the team’s latest proposal includes less money on a per-year basis than what Forte would receive playing 2012 under the franchise tag, which pays the average of the league’s top five highest salaries -- an average likely to grow once Johnson signs -- at the position.
Such a situation would likely make Forte more apt to assume the injury risk associated with playing one year under the franchise tag because he’d eligible for free agency in 2013, and perhaps a bigger pay day. It's important to note Forte -- if franchised -- would be eligible to enter free agency at age 27, which would make him a year younger than Williams and Gore when they signed their deals.
Either way, it’s telling that Forte hasn’t agreed to the terms placed on the table by the Bears.
Let's be real: if the contract met Forte’s standards, surely he would have jumped at the opportunity to sign it.