Yeah, I know it's not NFL season, but that doesn't mean I haven't been following the Bears this offseason. It's been a fairly exciting offseason for the Bears. They got rid of their old (kinda crappy) GM and hired a new guy. When free agency opened up, he made a pretty big splash right away by acquiring a big #1 receiver threat in Brandon Marshall. There's been a little bit of news regarding Marshall's RL issues, but it's been somewhat quiet lately.
The big issue that seems to have some people pretty divided is the Matt Forte contract issue. Here's the basic rundown for the uninformed. Matt Forte's rookie contract expired at the end of last year. He and the Bears were negotiating to get a long term contract set up before the 2011 season started, but were unable to come to terms. Forte had a great season up until Jay Cutler broke his thumb and was out for the season. 2 loses later, Forte tore one of the ligaments in his knee and ended up being done for the year, but he still made the pro-bowl and was recovered from his injury in time to participate. This year the Bears had the right to place the franchise tag on him which means that he will play for the Bears in 2012 for $7.7 Million without being able to negotiate with any other teams. The Bears placed the tag on him, but they can still come to a contract agreement with Forte before July 16 and the franchise tag becomes the set in stone deal for the year.
That's the basic background. Now once free agency, which runs from March 13 to about mid April I believe, opened up and teams could sign players from other teams, the Bears made their big acquisition in Brandon Marshall in addition to signing Michael Bush, a very good running back. Forte's reaction to this was to tweet about it basically badmouthing the Bears for going out and signing other players instead of taking care of their own first. The Bears management "responded" by saying in an interview that they had made a strong offer to Forte and were waiting for his response.
Here's where we get to my opinion on the subject. I think Forte's being a bit of a baby. Before we even start to look at numbers, let's look at the time table. First, according to the rules, the Bears have until July 16 to settle a long term deal with Forte, but they only have until Mid-April and in reality until a player signs a contract(possibly to another team) to sign the players they want from free agency. Of course the Bears are going to prioritize signing free agents first. It's got the soonest deadline by a wide margin. Second, running back is a very physically demanding position. The Bears want a few good ones so that one guy doesn't have to do all the work. Forte should want this too since it would, in theory, extend his career to have someone who could take 20% of the carries that he was taking last year. Third, I don't know about the rest of you, but if I started complaining openly that I didn't think my company was paying me enough, I probably wouldn't have a job for very long. I know it's a bit different with NFL players since we do find out how much each of them is making, but come on, publicly complaining about the people you're trying to negotiate with isn't the smartest move.
Now let's move onto numbers. Let me start right off and say that I don't know what the Bears have offered Forte only that they have made offers and he's turned them down. The basic understanding I have is that for a running back (remember, physically demanding and risky position), the basic premise behind a contract come in the yearly salary as well as the guaranteed money. It's a trade off where you accept a lower paying long-term contract in exchange for guaranteed money in case you end up with a career ending injury. Here are some numbers from some other recent running back contracts.
4-year 14M = 3.75/year with 7M guaranteed
4 year 31M = 7.75/year (not sure about guaranteed money, likely 15-16M)
5 year 43.5M = 8.7/year with 20.75M guaranteed
Here's where Forte's tweet makes me think he's being a bit of a baby. The Bears signed Michael bush to a contract that, on average, pays him roughly half of what Forte will make this year under the franchise tag. Boo hoo... Adrian Foster's contract makes him the 3rd highest paid running back in the NFL. Matt Forte's good, but as much as people might not agree with me, he's not the heart of the Bear's offense. Last season went into a tailspin when Jay Cutler went down, not when Forte did. He's definitely better than Michael bush. The other limiting factor is the franchise tag. He essentially has a 1-year $7.7 million contract with no guaranteed money. Rationally, a long-term contract should start at that annual number, but drop down and add guaranteed money. I'd probably expect a contract to fall somewhere around a 4-5 year contract at an average salary of $6.5 million/year with about half the total as guaranteed money.
The rumor mill is saying that Forte wants $8 million a year for 5 years, with $20 million guaranteed, and the Bears have "supposedly" offered $6 million per year, with $15 million guaranteed. Both of those numbers are non-official. Let's assume that it's true. If it is, Forte is being silly right off the bat. The Bears aren't going to offer to pay him more than the franchise tag (that the players agreed to in the new CBA last year). You don't go into a car dealership and pay $25,000 for a car when the asking price is only $20,000. Now if the Bears part is true, I'd say they're low-balling a little bit, but there's probably some wiggle room for negotiation. Again, those numbers could be completely fake. the bears could have made him an offer closer to what they gave Michael Bush. If that's the case, then instead of whining about it, I'd be happy that I have the franchise tag to ensure I get $7.7M next year instead of being a baby and crying about it on twitter. Long read, but that's my 2c.