By Nick Shepkowski-

(CBS) Rewarding loyalty in life is a great thing.

Whether it be in a relationship, at work or getting rewarded as a loyal costumer to your favorite restaurant, it’s great to be told you’re appreciated.  The NFL, however, isn’t every day life, and the life of a veteran NFL running back is even that much more of an extreme.

Matt Forte has been more than the Bears could have ever imagined when they drafted him 44th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.  From his 123 yard rushing performance in his first NFL game to the 6,218 total yards he’s had in four seasons, there is no doubt he’s been the Bears best offensive draft pick in years.

In sports, though, you don’t reward someone for what they have already accomplished – you pay them for what they’re going to do while under contract.  Despite rushing for more yards per game last year than Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Chris Johnson, the Bears are right in their hesitance to sign Forte to a massive contract.

Some feel that Forte’s sprained MCL from a season ago is the reason the Bears shouldn’t pay Forte.  This thought process caused Forte to recently post a video on his Twitter page that showed him pulling a 100-pound sled while running up a hill while offering the following caption “100Lbs sled up hill i think my knee will be ok.”

Here’s the thing:  I’m not worried about Matt Forte in 2012.  In fact, I fully expect him to have just as productive of a season as he had prior to his sprained MCL a year ago.  I’m not worried about 2012 and neither are the Bears, who are set to pay the running back $7.7 million this coming season. It’s down the road that I have an issue with.

Each time an NFL running back signs a new contract, it seems that sports radio stations and Twitter both explode with Bears fans crying for Forte to get paid.  “Why isn’t he making more?” or “How can the Bears treat him like that?” are the calls that are almost always made. Who can forget the #payforte campaign so many got behind whenever a big play was made the Bears running back a year ago?

You have to keep telling yourself, though, that just because Forte’s numbers have been stellar to date it doesn’t mean that he’ll continue to be the same running back over the next three or four seasons.  When NFL running backs start to fall off, it’s generally a slippery slope that falls quickly – see Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes.

As first reported by Laurence Holmes last fall, Forte turned down a deal that would have guaranteed him $14 million.  For a running back, that compares closest to the $13.5 in guaranteed money 49er Frank Gore signed before last season.

Anyone with any credible football sense would agree that Forte, even coming off his knee injury, is expected to be a better running back than what was expected of Gore before 2011.  I have no problem with Matt Forte being signed to a long-term deal, but in a world that saw Arian Foster ($20.75 mil guaranteed) and LeSean McCoy (20.765 mil guaranteed) sign new contracts in recent months, it’s not the time to overpay Forte, who has over 400 more career touches than both Foster and McCoy.

Somewhere in the area of the $17 million in guaranteed money Marshawn Lynch signed for earlier this offseason is what I’d consider fair for Forte.  With a team that still has gaping holes on the offensive line and an ever-aging defense, saving money where you can is important in the event Phil Emery and company bring in another big-name free agent in the near future.

Forte has exceeded expectations for him when he was drafted four years ago and handled his lack of a long-term contract with class outside of his tweets after the Michael Bush signing.  He’s acted like a professional and performed like a Pro Bowler.  As great as both of those are to hear, it’s still no reason to pay Forte more than he deserves.

For more information follow Nick on Twitter @Shep670

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