The case for a Forte extension

Top-five might not immediately resonate in discussions about Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte.

But a close look at the numbers indicates he's among the best at his position, which is something the Bears' front office will strongly consider in the coming weeks when determining whether Forte deserves a lucrative contract extension.

The sides already have held preliminary talks, according to a league source, despite there being a year remaining on Forte's original rookie contract.

"It would be nice [to get an extension done]," Forte told ESPNChicago.com on Monday from the Super Bowl. "It's always nice to have something like that happen. It's really up to my agent [Adisa Bakari] and the Bears to negotiate it. I just want to stay informed with what they're talking about. I love playing for the Bears, and I think it's a great organization. I just want to continue to succeed and play well for them."

Since entering the NFL in 2008 as a second-round pick out of Tulane, Forte ranks fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (4,731) behind Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and St. Louis' Steven Jackson.

Throw in Forte's 294 yards from the 2010 postseason, and he ranks fourth among all active running backs over the past three years in yards from scrimmage (5,025) behind Peterson (5,643), Johnson (5,606) and Baltimore's Ray Rice (5,038).

Yet Forte's 2010 base salary of $470,000 was less than that of Garrett Wolfe ($550,000), who finished the season with 8 yards on four attempts. Even Forte's primary backup, Chester Taylor, pocketed $7 million in the first year of a $12.5 million contract signed last offseason.

Entering the 20101 season, Forte faced skepticism about whether his 2008 rookie season (1,238 yards rushing, 8 TDs; 63 receptions, 477 yards receiving, 4 TDs) was a fluke after a 2009 sophomore slump in which the running back produced just 929 yards rushing and 471 yards receiving, despite playing a significant portion of the campaign with a sprained medial collateral ligament (the same injury that put quarterback Jay Cutler out of the NFC title game) in addition to numerous other nagging ailments.

Still, Forte produced 1,400 yards from scrimmage during that injury-riddled season. In 2010, Forte, who already ranks seventh in franchise history in career rushing yards (3,236), became the first player in Bears history to gain at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of his first three seasons.

"Even though [2009] wasn't as good as my rookie year, or as a lot of people say, it was a down year, I still had 1,400 [all-purpose] yards," Forte said. "That's pretty good to me, especially being injured."

But there's more:

  • Forte has churned out eight career 100-yard rushing games over his first three seasons, and the Bears are 8-0 in those situations.

  • Forte leads the Bears in rushing yardage (3,386) and receptions (184) from 2008 through 2010, and ranks third in receiving yards in that span behind Devin Hester (1,901 yards) and tight end Greg Olsen (1,733).

  • Forte is the first player in franchise history to produce a 150-yard rushing game and a 150-yard receiving game in the same season, and the first in the NFL to accomplish that feat since Marshall Faulk in 1999 (only four players have done that since 1970).

    So the statistics indicate Forte has outperformed his rookie contract.

    Of the 2008 draft class of running backs, only Johnson (5,606 yards) and Rice (5,038) have more yards from scrimmage than Forte, and only Johnson has scored more touchdowns (38 to Forte's 25).

    Still, it's difficult to assign a price tag to Forte's worth. Pending labor strife also could affect talks between the running back and the organization.

    With a 2,000-yard rushing season already on his résumé, Johnson recently received a short-term raise from the Titans but still seeks a long-term deal, along with Rice, who switched agents during the offseason, which would indicate a desire to return to the negotiating table.

    Jones-Drew, meanwhile, just finished the second year of a five-year, $30.95 million contract that contains $17.5 million guaranteed, including a $9 million signing bonus and his base salaries in the first two years of the deal. Jackson signed a reported six-year contract worth $44.805 million in 2008 that included $20.5 million guaranteed, and he's scheduled to make $7.2 million in 2011.

    But Forte has been more productive than Jackson (4,783 yards) and Jones-Drew (4,795) in terms of yards from scrimmage over the past three years.

    Does that mean he's worth a similar contract?

    Only Bears general manager Jerry Angelo knows the answer.

    "We'll want to bring some of our own back," Angelo said. "And I'm confident we'll be able to do that."

    Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.