Forte to hold out if deal not struck

Based on what he said, and didn't say, this week, it's obvious Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte is ready to hold out if a long-term contract isn't agreed upon before Monday's deadline.

It was reported yesterday that significant progress has been made between the Chicago Bears and Matt Forte toward a long-term deal. The two sides have until this upcoming Monday to reach an agreement. If it doesn't happen, Forte will either have to sign the $7.7 million tender or start his holdout.

Talking to ESPN's Adam Schefter yesterday, Forte said he's optimistic that a long-term deal will be reached by Monday's deadline, although his demeanor and tone, which was noticeably pessimistic, belied his true feelings on the issue.

When asked to put a percentage on whether a deal gets done this weekend, Forte was noncommittal.

"A percentage, (laughs) I don't know if I can put a percentage on it," he said. "I'm just hopeful about it right now. Basically, I can't even put a percentage on it."


RB Matt Forte
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire

From this interview, it's clear that Forte doesn't see "significant progress" in the recent talks. His agent, Adisa Bakari, has been working with Chicago's front office since last offseason. Yet, even with a new GM on board, the two sides still appear very far apart.

Forte recently compared his value to that of running back LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster, both of whom recently received long-term deals. Foster signed a five-year deal with the Texans worth $43.5 million, with $20.75 guaranteed, while McCoy signed a five-year deal with the Eagles worth $45 million, with $20.76 guaranteed.

The Bears are hesitant to invest as heavily, citing Forte's multiple knee surgeries, a pass-heavy league, the volatility of the position and the widespread use of running back by committee. The running back position has been severely devalued over the past 10 years. When you consider that most backs begin to wear down by the age of 28 – Forte is 26 – it's easy to understand the stance Chicago is taking.

Despite those factors, Forte still wants to get paid, and it appears he's ready to hold out if a long-term contract can't be struck. When asked by Schefter what will happen if a deal can't be reached by Monday's deadline, Forte said:

"I think we all know what happens by then."

Schefter: "What happens?"

Forte: "I think we all know."

Schefter: "I actually don't; would we not see you in training camp?"

From there, Forte sat silent, unwilling to answer.

His silence says more than his words ever could. It doesn't take a genius to realize he's on the verge of holding out.

While that is far from positive news, it's not the end of the world. As we've discussed before, Forte has no leverage in these negotiations. The franchise tag is a part of the CBA, which the NFLPA agreed to last offseason. It's a completely legal and justifiable maneuver by NFL organizations that leaves players with no option but to sit out.

Yet Forte has hinted that he doesn't plan to hold out for the entire year. Most likely, he'll sit out training camp and show up around the third preseason game. He'll get his point across to management but won't compromise the club's chances at success this season.

And don't worry about his conditioning. Forte is a professional that takes very good care of his body and will be in football shape when he finally does join his teammates, you can count on that.

In fact, a holdout would actually be beneficial for the Bears, as it allows Michael Bush, and the remaining backs on the roster, to get even more reps in training camp. Down the line, that will be good for the club.

There's a lot of talk about Forte's contract but in the long run, it's just talk. If he signs a long-term deal this weekend, bully. But if not, the 2012 Chicago Bears will be just fine.

Now go enjoy your weekend.

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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.

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