More than 50 running backs in the NFL make more money than Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, the current league leader in yards from scrimmage. In the last year of his rookie contract, Forte's base salary this year is $600,000 – roughly $6.5 million less than what the Bears paid Chester Taylor last season.
The two sides have been working on a contract extension since this offseason but it doesn't appear Chicago is willing to play ball. While the other top backs in the league all were signed or extended with contracts that included large sums of guaranteed money, the Bears balked. Reportedly, the club wasn't willing to offer one of the best all-around backs in the league more than $14 million guaranteed.
This season, Forte gained 1,091 total yards through the first seven contests – the fastest player to reach the 1,000 mark since Tiki Barber and Priest Holmes in 2004. He's been dominant both as a runner and a receiver, demonstrating a combination of awareness, toughness and elusiveness that is unmatched right now in the NFL.
Forte still wants the extension to happen as soon as possible but his agent, Adisa Bakari, said the organization has not reopened negotiations after tabling them before the start of the season. Most assumed the bye week would be a perfect time to finalize an extension and quell the animosity it's creating in the Bears' locker room. Yet the Bears, a team with plenty of money to spend, are dead set in making sure this drags out into the offseason.
As first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bears will use their franchise tag on Forte next season if a deal cannot be reached. He'll be paid the average of the top five salaries in the league at his position, which will drop from $9.45 million this year down to $7.71 million next year – more than half of what they were willing to give him in guaranteed money.
Forte, just 25 years old, is entering his prime but apparently Chicago's front office just isn't willing to make a long-term commitment to one of the best backs in the NFL.
On ESPN's "Rome is Burning" Forte said the franchise tag would make him feel even further underappreciated.
"That's not something I'm looking forward to," Forte said. "I don't want a one-year deal. I want a long-term extension. I think if they use the franchise tag that's kind of a cheap way to go out. That's not what I'm looking forward to. I want a long-term extension. I've been drafted by Chicago. I want to stay there so it's not something I'm looking forward to.
"Everybody who is doing anything, no matter what you're doing, if you're working and doing an exceptional job you want your boss to kind of notice that. And not a pat on the back but compensate you for what you're doing," he added. "That's in anything you're doing. It kind of makes you feel undervalued."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.