NFC North: DeAngelo Williams
What we don't know is the exact value of what the Bears have offered, and what he's turned down. Has there been no agreement because the Bears haven't made him a serious offer? Or is it because he is seeking to be one of the top 2-3 highest-paid running backs in the game? We don't know that. I don't think Forte should be mad that the Bears have spent money on his backup unless they aren't offering him a fair deal. A fair deal, to me, would be something north of what the Seahawks paid Marshawn Lynch.Forte
We might not know those terms, but ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt offers a glimpse into what would be a fair agreement based on current precedent and the state of the market. In his latest ESPN.com column, Brandt suggests there is a deal to be made if both sides agree to use the structure of a five-year, $43 million deal that DeAngelo Williams signed last summer with the Carolina Panthers. That deal includes $21 million in guarantees; Lynch received $18 million guaranteed over a four-year extension.
So using Brandt's analysis, we can say that Forte has a right to be upset if the Bears have come in south of Williams/Lynch money. But if he has rejected that deal, or something slightly higher, then it's possible he has overvalued himself in the market. As Brandt notes, the franchise tag the Bears used on Forte will make it difficult for him to achieve an elite-level running back contract like the one the Minnesota Vikings signed Adrian Peterson to last summer. That deal included $36 million in guarantees over seven years. Stay tuned.
Why are we hashing through that information? Because it should help solidify the market for Matt Forte, whom the Chicago Bears made their franchise player last Friday.
If a dispute remains, it's this: What tier does Forte belong in? Did Forte's multi-faceted performance in 2011, in which he amassed 1,487 all-purpose yards in 12 games, make him one of the NFL's top backs? Or should he be paid closer to the range of Williams, Lynch and/or Foster?
The market has formed well enough for the sides to reach a long-term agreement, which would allow the Bears to rescind the franchise tag. But that's only if they can agree on Forte's standing among his peers. As always, your thoughts are welcome.
With Matt Forte's numbers being somewhat similar to Frank Gore (Forte might get about 200 yards more per season through receiving yards), what does this say about the kind of contract he will receive? Gore was given a three-year, $21 million extension. It certainly isn't the kind of money DeAngelo Williams received from Carolina (five years, $43 million). Does Forte get more than Williams or does Gore's rate put Forte somewhere in between?
My first-blush reaction is that Gore's deal won't undercut Forte's position. As the chart shows, Gore is three years older and has almost 700 more touches than Forte in his career. In running back terms, those numbers are huge discrepancies.
Negotiations for running backs are more often based on the potential for future contributions, rather than past production. That's why, from a durability and body-age standpoint, Forte aligns much closer with Williams -- whose deal included $21 million guaranteed. (Gore got $13.5 million guaranteed.)
The one advantage Williams had over Forte is that his contract had expired and he was set to enter the free agent market. Forte has a year remaining on his deal, and teams normally expect some sort of discount if they extend a deal before its natural conclusion. Forte's eventual agreement could technically fall between the numbers of Gore and Williams, but I'm guessing it will be a lot closer to the latter than it is to the former.
(Hat tip to NFC West colleague Mike Sando for providing the chart template.)
Dan of Monroe, La., speaks for many of you: "What in the world are the Bears doing? Jay Cutler is going to have to learn to throw underhand."
I'm sorry to heap bad news on top of your despair, Dan, but let me also pass along this nugget: Tailback Matt Forte might be a training camp holdout. Here's the report from ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright.
Obviously this is a fluid situation. Forte is entering the final year of his contract and has made clear he would prefer an extension sooner rather than later. As we discussed earlier this week, the Bears will have to make a difficult value judgment on how to approach a tailback seeking a lucrative second contract. There haven't been any previous indications Forte would consider holding out, but it was only Wednesday when the Carolina Panthers gave tailback DeAngelo Williams a market-setting contract that included $21 million in guarantees.
We should have our answer soon enough. Bears players must report to training camp Friday at Olivet Nazarene University and their first practice is Saturday. The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement calls for fines of $30,000 per day for holdouts.
One possibility to keep in mind: Three years ago, receiver Devin Hester skipped the opening of training camp as he sought a contract extension. Ultimately, he worked out an agreement with the Bears to report but not practice until negotiations were complete. It's something to keep in mind as we proceed here.
Williams is a one-time Pro Bowler who has averaged 842 rushing yards per season in his career. Peterson has averaged 1,442 while Forte has 1,078 yards. So if DeAngelo Williams got $21 million in guarantees, what does Peterson (and, for that matter, Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans) merit? How about $25 million? Do I hear $30 million?
Meanwhile: Should Forte be considered a financial equal to Williams? You could make that argument.
In any event, we're now talking about some awfully high numbers for players who man the most brutal position in the game. But the 2011 market has been set. We'll see soon enough how the Vikings and Bears view it.
Hopefully, Detroit coaches and players are smart enough. Hopefully, they won't pat themselves on the back after holding Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme to 98 passing yards Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
After all, the Panthers had little reason to throw the ball when two members of their backfield were putting together 100-yard days. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 250 yards, and overall Carolina rushed for 262.
The Lions have now given up at least 150 rushing yards in six of their 10 games this season. If you're consistently giving up huge chunks of rushing yards, it means you can't stop opponents from accomplishing the most basic task in football: Pushing you out of the way.
As a result, an early lead can be a mirage. The Lions were ahead 10-0 and 13-7 before the Panthers outscored them 24-9 the rest of the way. No matter what other areas they try to shore up, the Lions are going to have a hard time breaking their losing streak if they can't muscle up against the run.
After Carolina's 20-17 victory over the Bears, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
1. The Bears won't lose faith in tight end Greg Olsen after he fumbled following both receptions Sunday. The way their offense is shaping up around tailback Matt Forte, Olsen will be in position for so many play-action passes -- as long as offensive coordinator Ron Turner and quarterback Kyle Orton continue feeding him the ball. Olsen ultimately will be the best pass-catcher on this team, especially if Devin Hester is sidelined because of a rib injury.
An aside: Watching Olsen's struggles Sunday reminded me of an October day in 1999, when Minnesota tight end Jim Kleinsasser fumbled twice -- against the Bears, ironically -- in a 24-22 Vikings loss. Then-coach Dennis Green moved him to fullback the following week, and the Vikings have never considered Kleinsasser much of a receiving threat since. There's no chance the Bears will go to those lengths with Olsen, but for some reason it jogged my memory. Anyway ...
2. Yes, Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart gobbled up 76 rushing yards in the second half. But I choose to attribute that performance to heat and conditioning rather than a leaky run defense. This was textbook maneuvering by the Panthers: Bring in young, fresh legs against a veteran group that has been baking in dark jerseys all afternoon. Stewart sliced through the Bears on a number of occasions, but before the heat got to them, Chicago held starter DeAngelo Williams to 31 yards on 11 carries. That's more reminiscent of the quality of the Bears' run defense.
3. It's interesting how quickly it became public knowledge that Orton was responsible for changing the call on a key third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. Orton switched from a run to a pass that fell incomplete and was nearly intercepted. On fourth down, the Panthers stopped fullback Jason McKie for no gain. The Bears want Orton to be more than a "game manager," but it's clear they also have some unwritten limits for him. Afterwards, Turner second-guessed himself for giving Orton an option.
And here is one question I'm still asking:
How badly is Hester injured? He did not return Sunday after bruising his ribs, and the Bears aren't the same team without him. The mere threat of him as a returner changes the way teams play, and the Bears are far from knowing how good he can be as a receiver. The team should be holding its collective breath while awaiting Hester's prognosis.