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Bears, Matt Forte experiencing contract complications


Matt Forte will honor his rookie contract but he said re-signing him will be ‘‘more difficult’’ if Bears wait until

Matt Forte will honor his rookie contract, but he said re-signing him will be ‘‘more difficult’’ if the Bears wait until the offseason. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:24AM



BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — This much we know: running back Matt Forte wants an extension, and the Bears want to give him one.

That’s the easy part.

Since that was established at the starting of training camp, the two sides have engaged in the sort of back-and-forth diplomacy of U.N. officials. Jerry Angelo said the club intends to sign the running back, while Forte practices in good faith and points to the general manager’s comments.

On Aug. 4, Forte told the Sun-Times that he would honor his rookie contract but that a new deal would be “more difficult” if the Bears wait until next offseason. Days before, though, Angelo said the key was to find a “common ground” while noting that “extensions are much tougher because agents normally look at the UFA market to set their counts.

“But he’s not a UFA.”

As they search for the common ground, it’s unclear whether the Bears and Forte are even in the same zip code because there are several challenges to overcome.

First, there’s the timing.

The team and the player’s preference would have been to address this earlier in the offseason. But that wasn’t possible because of the lockout, so Forte made his desire clear as soon as he could, just before training camp.

Second, there’s his current deal.

Forte is in the final year of his rookie contract, a four-year deal worth $3.7 million, that will pay him $550,000 in 2011.

There’s no question Forte’s vastly underpaid, with both of his backups set to make at least twice as much as him. But, especially when it comes to running backs, the club assumes a lot of risk when it proactively gives one a new contract.

Injuries, poor performance and the volatility of the marketplace can make a new deal a bad one for the team.

Last December, approaching the end of his thee-year, $1.76 million rookie contract, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles signed a six-year contract worth $32 million, including $10 million guaranteed. Charles, who finished the season with 1,467 rushing yards and a gaudy 6.4-yards per carry average, also headed to the Pro Bowl.

In his three seasons, Forte has more rushing yards — although nearly twice as many carries — and he’s scored eight more touchdowns than Charles.

Maurice Jones-Drew’s extension will also be a factor. The Jacksonville Jaguars running back signed a five-year, $30.9 million contract in April 2009 with one year remaining on his rookie contract. Jones-Drew collected $17.5 million in guarantees. Like Forte, Jones-Drew was a second-round pick, and is represented by agent Adisa Bakari. But, while Forte has yet to make the Pro Bowl, Jones-Drew has been named to the team twice.

The contract situations of DeAngelo Williams and Chris Johnson have made an already volatile market even more confusing.

The Carolina Panthers aren’t too popular with any of the clubs trying to work out new contracts with running backs. Despite playing in only six games last season, Williams signed a five-year, $43 million contract that included $21 million in guarantees, a record for the position that topped the $20 million in guarantees that Steven Jackson got as part of his six-year, $44 million deal with the St. Louis Rams in August 2008.

On Thursday, the Tennessee Titans declared that they would make Johnson the league’s highest-paid running back. Johnson, who has 4,598 yards and has scored 38 touchdowns in the last three seasons, is currently holding out because of his dissatisfaction with his current deal. He reportedly wants $30 million in guarantees.

In addition, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is also looking for a new contract, although he’s set to make $10 million this season.

The Panthers were desperate to keep Williams, who, unlike Forte, Johnson and Peterson, was an unrestricted free agent. So they overpaid, just as they did with defensive end Charles Johnson.

Running backs are among the most popular NFL players, but the physical demands of the position causes their stock to fall over time. Because some running backs decline suddenly, like Edgerrin James and Terrell Davis, teams can be hesitant to dole out extensions to veterans, even if they are still producing at a high level.

And there are countless other examples of highly-paid running backs who don’t pan out, including former Bear Cedric Benson and former Miami Dolphin Ronnie Brown.

So with the first preseason game coming up Saturday and the regular season opener a month away, the clock is ticking, as the Bears and Forte try to find a happy medium.

We’ve got a pretty good track record,” Angelo said, before talking up team contract negotiator Cliff Stein and Bakari. “So I feel optimistic. But again, we’ll just let that play itself out.”



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