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Is Bears’ Matt Forte as good as he thinks he is?

Matt Forte wants big contract but he ran for only three touchdowns last season. | Getty Images

Matt Forte wants a big contract, but he ran for only three touchdowns last season. | Getty Images

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Updated: July 25, 2012 6:33AM

Matt Forte thinks he’s an elite running back in the NFL — at least among the top five. That’s the money he wants, and that’s the money he thinks he deserves from the Bears.

Someone is lying to Forte. Or maybe Forte is lying to himself.

Here’s what an elite running back gets paid these days. The Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy got a five-year deal for $45 million with just more than $20 million guaranteed. The Houston Texans’ Arian Foster got a five-year deal for $43.5 million with $20.75 million guaranteed.

McCoy scored 17 rushing touchdowns and Foster 10 last season. Forte scored three rushing touchdowns in 2011. Other players who scored three rushing touchdowns last season include slow-footed quarterback Tom Brady and backup running backs Bernard Scott and Isaac Redman.

No, Matt, you’re not a top-five back. You’re versatile, you can catch the ball, but you’re not a top-five back.

But that doesn’t mean the Bears shouldn’t give him an extension. Forte is a five-year, $35 million back with $16 million guaranteed right now. Done.

And if the Bears can’t jump into that side of the pool, then the message they will continue to send is that they’re an organization that’s hard to take seriously.

‘‘We always measure up men compared to what other people are doing,’’ Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin said Friday. ‘‘Reality is — and that’s how Chicago has to look at it — [Forte] is your elite, and that’s the key. And since he is your elite, you send a bad message when you don’t take care of your elite.’’

Irvin, who is an analyst with the NFL Network, was in town Friday to participate in the annual Madden NFL ’13 Pigskin Pro-Am.

‘‘The Playmaker’’ and I don’t have a ton in common, but we did agree about the Bears. They remain an organization with big-time aspirations and a small-time mentality.

‘‘Teams like the Steelers, New England, the Packers, the 49ers, they are pushing in all the marbles,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘The Bears go out and get Brandon Marshall . . . you can’t go out and get Brandon Marshall and then have this [Forte situation] and say you’re pushing all the chips on the table.

‘‘The guys here were all talking, and a few said, ‘Oh, the Bears won’t lose anything now with Forte not in camp.’ Shut up. That’s not true. Let me tell you what they are losing, for those of you who have never built a championship: Right now in OTAs, minicamps, everyone is looking around the field together, saying: ‘Wow, we’ve got a squad. Look at Brandon Marshall. Look at Devin Hester. Look at Forte. Damn, look at Jay Cutler. . . . This could be the year.’

‘‘But the Bears are coming out now, and not everything is in order. Now everyone is more like: ‘Yeah, maybe we have something. Maybe.’ It limits the amount of work people will put in. Hope will dictate effort. If I know I have real hope to get to a Super Bowl, you’re putting in all kind of extra work. This is what the Bears are missing. This is how you build a championship, and this is why it’s been awhile for them.’’

Former All-Pro receiver Cris Carter took it a step further.

‘‘This is what the Bears need to ask themselves: ‘Are we serious about trying to win the Super Bowl?’ ’’ Carter said. ‘‘Then sit down and look at what they’ve done because what they’ve done will tell you if they’re trying to win a Super Bowl.’’

They’re not. The handling of the Forte situation is just the latest evidence of that.

Maybe when Forte realizes he’s just outside that first tier of running backs and the Bears realize their window on this season is open but closing fast, harmony can come.

Then again, maybe all the parties involved prefer to keep lying to themselves.

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