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Bernstein: Why Care What Forte Makes?

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Matt Forte celebrates scoring a touchdown in London, England.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Matt Forte celebrates scoring a touchdown in London, England. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-

CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist

(CBS) Meet Matt Forte: America’s most popular one-percenter.

Here’s a guy who was offered a contract worth $6 million per year, with $13-14 million guaranteed, turned it down, and is now -– amazingly — the peoples’ proletariat. Amid international protests over the disparity between haves and have-nots, his quest for more is a cause célèbre.

It’s an amazing PR improbability, as Forte has avoided the “greedy player” label, despite the fact that he is demanding more money than the gobs he is being offered. That’s more the story, really, than a running back with no leverage outperforming his current contract on a slightly-better-than-mediocre team.

“Pay the man!!” read banners at games and mindless tweets from fans and teammates, betraying a stunning lack of understanding of where the leverage lies. The Bears were generous to make any offer to someone who is not an unrestricted free agent, particularly one who plays that position.

Running backs break down, either by traumatic injury they risk on every carry or tangible, accelerated erosion. Paying more than one needs for their services is dumb business.

And the Bears needn’t do anything, since they can just employ the franchise tag in consecutive years. That move would pay Forte a total of around $16 million guaranteed.

The message to Forte from Jerry Angelo, in essence, is this: “We think you are going to get hurt, and/or decline. If you want peace of mind, here it is. If that’s not enough money for you, you will eventually get paid if we’re wrong about your health and production (but we’re not).”

Pretty simple, right?

Why fans care about how much money Forte makes is a riddle to me. As long as he is performing, let him perform. There’s no need whatsoever for a fan to be concerned about his paycheck.

It so happens that he is playing brilliantly in an offense that is heavily reliant on him. He shouldn’t matter as much as he does, but he’s mattering competently and at times, spectacularly. The Bears are at no real risk of losing him, and can keep handing him the ball without being concerned about his heavy workload. He’s like a car at the end of a lease, with mileage to spare.

Some argue that locker room grumbling about Forte’s status is bad for the team, somehow making them less likely to win. That’s a canard. There are players on every team who want more money, and when the ball is in the air on Sunday nobody cares. Besides, even the outspoken players carrying water for Forte understand that he was offered an extension.

He could come up with a phantom injury, effectively staging a midseason holdout to make his absence felt acutely. The Bears rallying to support him would turn on a dime, even if that kind of gutsy move might have the disered effect. The understanding of the business side only goes so far.

What’s more, the players whining about an unfair system just blew their big chance at the bargaining table. Instead of crying after the fact about how teams can squeeze production out of players at low cost, show some backbone in trying to alter the mechanism.

Perhaps fans use this as a way to take misguided shots at Angelo, since they are rightfully unhappy with the job he’s done stockpiling talent. It’s the wrong way to do it, of course, since his choice to avoid unnecessary expenditure and risk should be lauded, not slammed. In any other business, a manager would be hailed for getting the company such value from an employee.

Or it could be just a convenient outlet for people who feel undervalued and underpaid at their own jobs, frustrated by bosses unwilling to recognize their contributions. They know the feeling, I guess, of seeing others do what they do, but pull in more money.

Those people will get what they negotiate, just like Matt Forte.

There must be some Wall Street executives scratching their heads right now, wishing they could run a 4.5, chip-block the six-technique, or execute the wheel route.

It appears that’s the best way to convince the common man that greed is good.

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