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Marshall Faulk to Bears: Matt Forte is rare commodity, pay accordingly

Bears running back Matt Forte runs ball during Chicago Bears victory over AtlantFalcons 30-12 seasopener September 11 2011 Soldier Field.

Bears running back Matt Forte runs the ball during the Chicago Bears victory over the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 in the season opener September 11, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 26, 2011 12:28AM

Despite a mutual desire, the Bears and Matt Forte ultimately couldn’t agree to terms on a contract extension because of differing opinions on what the running back is worth.

Where exactly does Forte fit between the contracts of Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (six years, $10 million in guarantees) and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (seven years, $36 million in guarantees)?

But count Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk as the biggest proponent of the “Pay Forte” movement that started on Twitter.

“I’m not taking shots at the Bears, but I hope they aren’t waiting for him to have a bad season because the market has been set on that position,” Faulk, now an NFL Network analyst, told the Sun-Times on Monday. “The market is set, and you have to pay him. He’s one of the better backs in our league, and he’s definitely deserving of it.

“They love paying defense, but there aren’t many Matt Fortes. I warn the Chicago Bears: If you think you can just find another guy to play in this offense, then this could end up being trouble for you because it’s not easy.”

There’s no better authority on what it takes to play running back in a Mike Martz offense than Faulk, the linchpin of “The Greatest Show on Turf.” He perplexed opposing defenses, given his well-rounded skill set and his equal talent as a runner and receiver.

That’s why Faulk empathizes with Forte.

“The problem with our league is, they like paying by the position,” Faulk said, “and whenever a football player is up for a contract, they can’t quantify what he’s worth.

“When they ask [Forte] to run outside, he’s in the game. Inside, in the game. Block, in the game. Line up as a receiver? In the game. Run routes out of the backfield? In the game. That’s a football player.”

Defining a great RB

One of Faulk’s pet peeves is when the topic of greatest running backs in NFL history comes up.

“When you talk about the great backs, they say Emmitt [Smith] and Barry [Sanders], and they say Jim Brown and Walter Payton,” Faulk said. “But they never look at complete as great. But there’s no greater than being complete.”

So while he may be 10th in total rushing yards, Faulk believes the fact that he’s third in total yards from scrimmage shouldn’t be discounted.

“He’s never going to be a 25-30 carry guy,” Faulk said of Forte’s role in Martz’s offense. “He’ll never be a 2,000-yard rusher. But he’ll always be around 1,800 to 2,100 total yards.”

But the greatest compliment Faulk could pay Forte is that the Bears running back never has to come off the field.

“In my eyes, he and Ray Rice are the only ones doing that right now, without sharing the load,” Faulk said. “Those two guys might be the only two guys where their coach might call a timeout if it’s a crucial play and he’s tired.

“Let’s not get caught up in the rush yards. The Bears better understand what he is to what they do and who they are.”

So while Peterson and Tennessee’s
Chris Johnson might be considered greater, classic running backs, Faulk insisted that Forte is adept at the myriad of skills necessary to thrive under the demanding Martz, from lining up as a receiver or tight end to picking up blitzes.

“That’s the part that gets overlooked — all the nuances that you have to know about the adjustments and protections,” Faulk said. “When an offensive lineman goofs up, we have to fix it. The running backs make the adjustments in the protection issues. And it’s so hard.”

Making a decision

In the final year of his four-year, $3.7 million contract, Forte is making $600,000 this season, the minimum for a player of his experience. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo hasn’t ruled out the possibility of re-opening contract talks with Forte during the season, but the club can retain him through 2012 by placing the franchise tag on him and paying him what is projected to be about $10 million.

But Faulk said the Bears would be wise to lock Forte up, pointing to plays such as the running back’s 56-yard touchdown catch off a screen pass against Atlanta on Sunday.

“What he makes look easy — and what I made look easy — you just don’t find that anymore,” Faulk said. “Some teams go out and get three backs and ask them to do the job of one man. If that’s what they want to do, then they should do that. But if you want him to play every down, they need to pay him for that.

“He’s one of the few left in the league that plays every down. That’s not even heard of in our league now, an every-down back,” Faulk jokingly said. “What the hell is that?”

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