By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Matt Forte is not one of the best players in the NFL.
He is a solid professional whose best attribute is his versatility.
He does a lot of things well. He runs the ball, he catches it and he can block with fervor and a bit of nastiness.
However, he will never remind NFL fans of Emmitt Smith, Neal Anderson or the late Walter Payton. Those were the kind of versatile players who had magical ability. (You might not think Anderson belongs, but he really did. He’s one of the most underrated players in Bears history.)
But don’t think for a second that the Bears did the wrong thing by finally signing Forte to a contract extension Monday.
They may have had him over a barrel and they could have insisted that he report to the team as its franchise player but that would have been the wrong strategy.
It would have created a schism in the Bears lockerroom and someone in Bears management realized that. Perhaps it was our gal Ginny (Virginia McCaskey) who advised Phil Emery that this was not a time for the Bears to flex their financial muscles.
Players will always side with players, and no matter how mature and worldly linebacker Brian Urlacher sounds in the offseason, he’s going to sense his teammate’s unhappiness when they are sharing the same lockerroom.
All football players understand how business is done, but it’s a lot harder to accept when the sweat is pouring off you in the heat of August and you are getting hit hard in practice sessions day after day.
That business sense is even harder to maintain when you lose a couple of early-season games in September that you should have won.
That’s when players start to think about the fairness of their employers. There may be a lot of players in the Bears lockerroom who have been treated fairly by the Bears and gotten good deals, but if they can look at one key player who was not treated properly, questions are asked.
Questions such as why Forte didn’t get his? Once that question is asked, they don’t stop looking for answers.
The Bears came to their senses and gave Forte a much better deal than he probably expected just before the deadline that would have forced them to cease negotiating. A $31.5 million contract that includes $17.5 million signing bonus (according to the Chicago Tribune) is a lot more than the $7.7 million Forte would have received as a franchise player.
It is not as much as the top running backs in the game, but Forte wasn’t asking for that. He was never pushing for maximum dollars. It shouldn’t have been this difficult.
When Forte is healthy, he will provide the Bears with an offensive lifeline. It’s clear that the Bears are going to have a down-the-field passing game this season and Jay Cutler will try to throw the ball to wideout Brandon Marshall when the Bears need big plays.
If Marshall is an unstoppable commodity, the Bears will be an explosive offense. However, if the offensive line struggles a big and Cutler does not have the time to find Marshall, the Bears have to go to plans B, C and D.
Forte is a key part of all of those plans. He can run between the tackles. He can run outside. He can catch the ball and he can block.
Even if the Marshall plan works out well, the Bears will still need to keep Forte involved to relieve the pressure.
Paying Forte and giving him a new deal should make him happy. It will almost certainly remove that angst factor from the locker room.
Something else will undoubtedly replace it, but at least the Bears took control of a factor that could have festered and they eliminated it.
The Bears have a chance to run with the NFL’s big dogs this year. They will face obstacles throughout the 16-game season. But at least they have eliminated one that could have been quite nasty.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.