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Morrissey: Matt Forte should just take the Bears’ money and run

Running backs don’t have long before they’re regarded as over hill Bears’ Matt Forte is already 26. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Running backs don’t have long before they’re regarded as over the hill, and the Bears’ Matt Forte is already 26. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 6, 2012 10:32AM

If I were Matt Forte’s agent, I’d say to him: ‘‘Matt, baby, sweetheart, you know I love you more than life itself, more   than my own family and almost as much as my stock portfolio. But it’s over. Sign the deal. You’re not going to get the money you want from those dastardly Bears, who don’t appreciate you or the 3 percent I get.’’

I’m not Forte’s agent, but somebody needs to talk some sense into the running back. Or somebody needs to talk some sense into his agent. It’s pretty simple: Running backs’ worth has taken a nosedive in the last few years. Teams still want Walter Payton, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, but they don’t want to pay them, not when the shelf life at the position is perceived to be that of a gallon of milk.

The Bears’ stance on this matter would best be described as ‘‘entrenched.’’

Forte doesn’t have much leverage, but he does have options:

◆ He can hold out, let the season begin and hope the offense struggles with Michael Bush in the backfield. If Bush plays well, then the Bears’ approach will have been validated and Forte will have to come crawling back.

◆ He can take the multiyear contract offer the Bears have made to him and become a very wealthy man. This is the option that makes the most sense, when you put aside ego, hard feelings and, well, ego. The Bears could offer him guaranteed money in the $14  million range.

◆ Or he can take the $7.7 million that comes with the franchise tag the Bears placed on him in March. He made $600,000 last season. Seems like a pretty nice raise, right? Not when Forte looks at the $21 million Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams received in guaranteed money last year.

Dropping in value

We can argue all day whether Forte is as good as Williams, but that’s not the point. The future is what matters now and what has mattered since Forte began grumbling about the Bears’ lack of exuberance during contract negotiations.

The perception, if not the reality, is that running backs begin a downward slide after they turn 25. It’s why you’re seeing fewer teams giving big money to productive running backs who are up for their second contracts. The players are ready to hit the jackpot after working under the terms of the contracts they signed as rookies; the general managers are fixated on the wear and tear at the position.

Forte is 26. Twenty-six in running back years is about 32 in human years. The Tennessee Titans gave Chris Johnson $30  million in guaranteed money last year, and he proceeded to have his worst season by far as a pro. He turned 26 soon after signing the deal.

When Forte suffered a knee injury last season, he sat out the final four games rather than risk further damage. He was smart to do that. If the Bears weren’t willing to give a little at the bargaining table, why would he play? His knee was fine by the time he stepped on the field for the Pro Bowl.

The Bears, in turn, were smart to tag him. And they’re smart to hold their ground, even if he is 100 percent healthy and even if there’s nothing in his chart that suggests an injury risk. If you’re a running back, you can be the picture of health one day and a crime-scene photo the next.

Forte thinks he’s good. The Bears think he’s good. By almost any measure, he is good. It doesn’t mean he will be good — or standing — in two years. That’s the problem with running backs. His image of the position as a glamour position doesn’t match the realities of the market.

They can live without him

Forte is an exceptional receiver and a good runner when he has some field with which to work. He can’t get the tough yards inside, but he can break off a 35-yard run as well as anyone.

If you want to know his worth, though, all you need to know is this: The Bears fell apart late last season because of Jay Cutler’s absence, not Forte’s.

It’s not his fault he has skills that perfectly fit a devalued position. It’s not his fault running backs are as disposable as razors these days. You can’t blame him for wanting more.

But Matt? It’s time. Go buy a pen. See if you can find one with black-and-blue ink. Use as needed.

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