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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Have at It: Matt Forte's best strategy

By Kevin Seifert


By all accounts, Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte is working hard to return to the field after suffering a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection Tuesday morning and, speaking to reporters Tuesday night, he said: "I want to hurry up and get back and hopefully I'm 100 percent when I get back."

I'd like for our Have at It debate this week to center around that final sentiment. We all know that Forte is playing out the final year of his rookie contract, one that is paying him $600,000 this season. The Bears appear intent on using their franchise tag on him this winter, one that would pay him about $7.7 million in 2012 but limit his access to a market-level multiyear contract. And we all know that NFL players are expected to return from injuries long before they are fully 100 percent. As the saying goes, you can't make the club in a tub.

Matt Forte
Matt Forte left in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs with a sprained medial collateral ligament.
So my question is this: To what extent, if any, should Forte protect himself from returning in a vulnerable position, one that could presumably put his long-term health (or value) at risk for the benefit of a team that he believes has undervalued him in contract negotiations? Would a slow or delayed return serve as a nuanced reminder to the Bears of his value to their offense?

I'm sure many fans want to see Forte back as soon as possible, and they won't spend much time worrying about the millions of dollars he might sacrifice if he re-injures the knee or lowers his value with sub-par injury-related performances. But you might also want to consider how a few former players, now ESPN analysts, think on this subject.

Ross Tucker, an NFL offensive linemen for five years, wrote that Forte shouldn't step back on the field until he is "completely healthy." Tucker added: "Yes, football is a team sport and Forte probably wants to be out there battling for a playoff berth with his teammates. However, it is an individual profession, and every player needs to realize he is essentially an independent contractor and his corporation is himself. That's especially true for someone playing a fungible position like running back on a rookie contract the way Forte is."

Meanwhile, ex-receiver Cris Carter said this week on ESPN Radio that "all reality" should have set in for Forte when he took a helmet to his knee. Added Carter: "All we can take from the NFL is money and memories, the two M's. I tell the kids, get as much of them as you can get."

Putting himself in Forte's shoes, Carter said: "He's already got a torn MCL. Now what else do I need to do, coach? What else do I need to do, franchise? Now I have to look out for me. Every player is in business for himself. It's Cris Carter, Inc. I'm going to try to help the [team], but at the end of the day, it's about me and my family and being able to provide for them, not today, but until they die."

So what should Forte do? A sprained MCL can take anywhere from two to six weeks to heal. Should he hurry back as soon as possible to help a franchise that would discard him the moment an injury left him unproductive? Or should he protect his future, allow the knee to heal fully and then regroup this winter?

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. As always, I'll publish a representative sample, along with my own thoughts, by the end of the week. Have at It.