Hanley: Bears Better Pass On Forte

By Brian Hanley-

(CBS) Here’s a bit of advice for the Bears’ next general manager: Run away from Matt Forte.

In a perfect world, Forte would get every penny of the $20 or so million in guaranteed money he has been trying to pry from the Bears in a new contract.

The Bears, as fans well know, are far from perfect.

The list of positions which the next GM needs to address is long. Which is why the approximately $7.8 million it will take the Bears to pay Forte next season via a franchise tag could be better spent.

That thought may seem colder than the weather today, given Forte’s fine career, but a good GM can find the next Forte for about a third of the cost of the franchise tag. Say, Marion Barber money just better spent.

As Brad Biggs wrote in his fine Bears breakdown series in the Chicago Tribune, Forte was on his way to statistically being the Bears’ best back since Walter  Payton before a sprained knee ended his season. He was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage at the time of the injury in the Dec. 4 game vs. Kansas City, a setback that forced him to miss the final four regular-season games. Forte had 1,487 yards from scrimmage in 12 games, just 129 yards behind his output from 2010. Had he maintained his average over the final four games, he would have finished with 1,983 yards, which would have ranked fifth in club history.

As Biggs noted, Forte had an average of 4.9 yards per carry–a yard better than his average through the first two years of his career and a half-yard better than the previous season. No one should doubt Forte’s dedication to being the best back possible. One look at the improved shape he was in from the first training camp practice was evidence enough of Forte’s will. He became big-play Forte last season, something missing in his career earlier, with 12 rushes of 20 yards or more along with five receptions.

But there are a lot of miles on Forte’s legs and NFL history suggests teams tread lightly when it comes to spending big bucks on running backs after four seasons. And it wasn’t Forte who was missed most after getting hurt. It was quarterback Jay Cutler’s season-ending thumb surgery which led to the once 7-3 Bears to a four-game losing streak which caused them to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s departure would certainly lead to a better opportunity for Forte next season. Forte was on Martz’s pay-no-mind list early last season. He had only 35 carries through the first three games. That’s when the team had its annual intervention with their now retired stubborn OC. Bears brass told Martz to stop ignoring Forte. The next game Forte ran for 205 yards against Carolina, tying him with Payton and Gale Sayers for second best day in club history. That was the start of a seven-game stretch where Forte averaged 21.6 carries per game and the first of four 100-yard games in a span of five.

With the run-oriented Mike Tice now taking over for Martz, Forte may reach even higher heights. But this team doesn’t have the luxury to invest so much in a running back, even if he is as special as Forte.

That money would be better spent on signing the volatile Vincent Jackson, the oft-troubled wide receiver who earned $11.4 million with San Diego via the franchise tag last season. Sure Jackson’s off-field behavior–including two DUI arrests–makes paying him a gamble. But there is no arguing the talent Jackson brings on the field.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported that Chargers GM A.J. Smith is now “comfortable” with potentially giving Jackson a long-term deal. Jackson’s prior arrests for DUI had reportedly made Smith leery of signing him to a long term deal which is why the team placed the franchise tag on him last year. To place it on him again it would cost over $13 million, which the report states the team is unlikely to do. The two sides are expected to begin talking sometime after the Super Bowl.

The Bears best be ready to jump in with their best offer before those talks get going in earnest. Jackson, 28, and Cutler could elevate the Bears’ passing game to among the league’s elite. Only, of course, if the Bears also spend some big bucks to upgrade the pass protection for Cutler by landing a veteran left tackle via free agency. A shutdown cornerback and dependable safety are also needs, and don’t forget to add a pass rusher to the team’s shopping list.

That’s why the money budgeted for Forte has to be spent on other needs.

Again, in a perfect world, Forte would stay.

In the Bears imperfect world, Barber or an upgrade, Kahlil Bell, and Armando Allen will have to do next season.

Brian co-hosts The Mully and Hanley Show, heard Monday-Friday from 5am-9am on 670 The Score.

More from Brian Hanley
  • Karl Benyoussef

    I agree with some of these things but if they let Forte walk then who is going to run the ball? I love the idea of a stud caliber receiver on this team but I don’t think it should be a one dimensional offence where they just throw (or run for that matter) all day. I would be very concerned if they let Forte go because I don’t trust Bell as an every down back. Hopefully the Bears can get a decent GM in here who can draft a replacement if they decide to move on at RB.

    • Tony Cunningham

      one dimensional? Id love to see one dimensional, we don’t have close to that now. so lets pick something!!

  • Larry Horse's Arse Horse's Arse

    While Bell did look good in limited playing time, letting Forte go like the author suggests could very well torpedo a good deal of the Bears’ offense. I don’t know the stat, but Forte was something like 50% of the offense up to the point when he went down.

    The Bears need a lot of things, including a stud receiver, but losing half of their offense to get it isn’t a very good idea and won’t fill any of those needs without shooting themselves in the foot in the process.

  • Creighton

    From what I understand the Bears will be about 20-25 million under the cap. However this is without Forte, only one Corner on the team, One QB on the team, Izzy, Okye, Ed Williams, Bell, Davis, Meriweather, and Steltz, all free agents.

    So basically they have no secondary, no running backs, 1 QB, and are thin at d-line. Throw in the worst recievers in the nfl, and the worst offensive line in the nfl, and they really don;t have much money. Now while Vincent Jackson is a very good reciever, both Bowe and Colston are better. Colston is the best of the lot but can;t seem to stay healthy. I would go with Bowe. Guys like Brent Grimms, Mathis, Finnegan, and D Bell are all free agent but you can’t afford three of them and you still have to fill out the Roster. Reciver is a must, but with only 1 Corner and 2 Safeties on your roster you need to bring someone in. After you look at their needs they don’t have enough money.

  • Ed Viola

    And you wonder why there is no loyalty among players

  • Seth

    This is a flat out terrible idea, dumping the majority of your offense. “but a good GM can find the next Forte for about a third of the cost of the franchise tag.” Really? This is the crux of your argument? Because the draft is ALWAYS full of this level of talent for the first 3 rounds.Thank god you aren’t in contention for the GM job.

    Or are you? Low budget and full of terrible ideas…sounds like a prime candidate, actually.

  • s.demlinger

    WHO? WHAT ? WHERE would you believe guys lke Forte are just around the corner? the song tell’s it, theres a rainbow in the sky, so lets have another cup of coffeee. MAN O LIVE, Forte was half of the offense COME ON ! WHO HIREDYOU?
    Just to say stuff I guess. GOOD LUCK TO YOU.
    I think the BEARS should look at the Packers stuck in the mud play against the giants. If they intend to improve they better snap out of it.

  • pudd'in head

    Brian i understand you need to write about something…good or bad but this angle is really BAD

  • BigFansMember

    Is Brian Hanley still at the Sun-Times?

    i just went to their site and couldn’t find any trace of him

  • Danimal

    This is a very logical article, there are definitely needs pointed out here that need to be addressed.

    Who in their right mind wants an offense where 50% of the production comes from one player? That is setting yourself up for disaster whenever the next MCL comes calling for a rest.

    The Bears are sorely in need of actual receiving threats, better protection up front, and shutdown players on defense.

    Spend 4 million a piece in free agency for four quality starters instead. Diversify.

  • Laugh Hammer

    I agree with this article for only one reason. Forte had a lot of miles on his legs in college, and being the Bears primary back and receiver for the last few years only adds t o the wear and tear.

  • Imgwanna Kikbooti

    Don’t rush to judgement, while it might seem that Forte is 50% of offense, that is because there is no one else. If there was a Megatron on the Bears, Forte would not be 50% of offense. If Rusty Cutler could do audibles, Forte would not be 50% of offense. If the TE was used more as a receiver, Forte would not be 50% of offense. The Bears need an impact WR, OL help, verdict in my mind out on TE, but might need help there, DL depth, LB depth, CB upgrade, and safety upgrade and let’s not forget, a viable backup at QB. Can’t do all that in one draft, so Bears need to rely on FA to address some of these needs. That has a price tag. But really, I say blow it all up, and draft and plan to be a contender in 2014. Defense is old. Problem is, Ruskell will be new GM doing Lovie”s bidding or Emery will. Le Sigh, hate to say it, Bears are in for some down years, I just hope that whoever is GM, he has good sound bites for the radio. Oh wait, Bears are 1-0 this year!

  • Jim Klosowski

    your a moron there is nothing wrong with the offensive line it was all do to martz and his stupid offense the o line will be a strenth of the team . Bears need a stud wideout and tightend I would get them in free agency and use all draft picks to reload on defense

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