Matt Forte and Le'Veon Bell might as well be brothers from another making-plays-out-of-the-backfield mother.
They catch passes with ease. They can line up anywhere on the field. They have patience, vision and a smooth running style (here's the proof -- both players typically look like this in the open field).
Forte notched 1,616 total yards and nine offensive touchdowns in his third year. Bell was on pace for 1,845 total yards and eight touchdowns in his third year before tearing his medial collateral ligament in Week 8.
Pound for pound, Bell projects to be slightly better than Forte over his first eight NFL seasons.
But Forte's departure from Chicago is a reminder of what Bell can be for the Pittsburgh Steelers long term -- the ultimate versatile back and a highly respected player for a storied franchise. This comparison is fitting for Bell and the Steelers as the player enters the final year of his rookie contract.
Forte is probably the Bears' No. 2 back all time behind Walter Payton. Bell can join Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis in Steelers folklore with four to five more productive seasons.
The 2015 Steelers used Bell mostly as a runner in his six games because he played four of them without Ben Roethlisberger. When Bell's at his best, though, he's out wide as well as taking handoffs. His receiver skills are elite, effortless. As Bell was tearing up the league with 85 catches in 2014, there was one running back with more -- Forte, with 102.
Forte has provided a road map of sorts for Bell, on the field and financially.
Money might be drying up for most running backs, but a guy like Forte proves that backs can validate the hefty price tag. In 2012, the Bears signed Forte to a four-year extension worth a reported $17.1 million guaranteed, $30.4 million in total value and an average of $7.6 million per year. That haul ranked Forte sixth among running backs in per-year average, a landscape inflated by Adrian Peterson's ridiculous $14 million per year (the league won't see that for a while) and a Marshawn Lynch contract that paid $12 million per year but stretched only two seasons.
Not only did Forte play out his contract, he also gave the Bears 6,500 total offensive yards and 35 touchdowns (11 receiving), along with 264 catches. He never played fewer than 13 games in any of those seasons.
Such production and dependability merit $30 million all day.
Bell can do that for Pittsburgh, which might slow-play the running back in contract negotiations because of his injuries. Bell hurt his knee late in the 2014 season as well.
With the salary cap increasing to $150-plus-million, Bell could get more than Forte, though probably not by much. After all, those $8 million-per-year commitments to Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray aren't looking so great right now.
As long as Bell channels his inner Forte, he'll always have value that differentiates. Guys like Forte and Bell are almost like No. 2 quarterbacks out there. They understand route concepts, where to be on every play. They can line up in the slot or on the outside. Good quarterbacks love to throw to guys like them and hand off to them.
Bell should salute Forte for paving the way. Actually, he can probably just thank Forte personally. They have the same agent, too.