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.