Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte recently sat in on Maurice Jones-Drew's SiriusXM Radio show. One topic of conversation revolved around Forte's contract, which will expire at the end of next season. Last year, he pulled in $470,000 and is scheduled to make $555,000 in base salary in 2011.
"I hope the Bears feel I deserve a new contract," Forte said. "This league is based on production, and the last three years, I've produced very well for our offense. I think production speaks for itself."
When looking at the numbers, it's hard to build a case against him. In 2010, Forte led the team in rushing (1,069 yards) and receptions (51). In fact, he's led the Bears in rushing each of his three seasons in the NFL. He led the team in receptions his rookie season as well, and was second in the team in catches in 2009. His 288 total touches last season accounted for more than 30 percent of Chicago's entire offense.
Forte is easily the crux of the offensive unit. He plays a role in coordinator Mike Martz's system similar to that of Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk when the Greatest Show on Turf was in full swing. Additionally, Forte was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the fifth-best pass-blocking running back in the league last season. He's a three-down back who performs at a high level in all phases of the game.
The Bears' front office has indicated a desire to extend his time in Chicago beyond 2011. But at what price?
Considering his production, it's obvious he was severely underpaid in 2010. His 101 yards from scrimmage was 10th best in the league, above other heralded backs such as Chris Johnson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Turner and Rashard Mendenhall. His 2009 season was marred by a knee injury, but in 2008, he was fourth in the league in total yards per game (107), behind only Turner, Steven Jackson and Adrian Peterson.
Forte's accomplishments are even more impressive when we take into consideration the porous offensive line that has blocked for him throughout his career. Behind that same line, last year's backup Chester Taylor averaged only 2.4 yards per carry – the worst of any runner with more than 100 carries in the post-merger era. If the front five ever figures out how to open a hole, Forte could earn multiple trips to the Pro Bowl.
In terms of production, he's easily one of the NFL's Top 10 running backs. In terms of value to a team's offense, he's Top 5. Obviously, he should be paid as such.
"My agent is handling that, and he's in talks with the Bears people," Forte recently said on ESPN 1000. "Look at the stats over the last three years, and I'm among the top five running backs in all-purpose yards and touchdowns and all that stuff. So hopefully we can do something." His production is similar to that of other workhorse backs like Jackson, Peterson, Turner, Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew. Here are those player's base salaries in 2011:
Adrian Peterson - $7.7 million
Steven Jackson - $7.2 million
Michael Turner - $5 million
Frank Gore - $2.9 million
Maurice Jones-Drew - $2.7 million
Forte will only be 25 years old when the season starts. Most NFL backs begin declining precipitously once they hit 30, which means the Bears can expect four to five more good years from him – all of those while in his prime.
For these reasons, the front office should make it a priority to lock up Forte through the 2015 season at around $4-$5 million per year. This would put him in the upper echelon as far as running back salaries and would guarantee a happy player for, not only this season, but many years to come.
His price tag is well worth it, especially considering Chicago's eagerness to shell out more than $6 million to the aforementioned Taylor last year. If the team is willing to put such a premium on the backup, it better be willing to pony up for the starter.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com. To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider.