- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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"Pay the man," Williams said after the Bears' 30-12 victory over Atlanta on Sunday. "Pay the man."
Forget the first and 15th, every Sunday is payday for Matt Forte until he gets that new contract. If he keeps having games like the one he did Sunday, the Bears' front office will rue not locking him up during training camp.
As Jay Cutler predicted this week, "At the end of the day if he goes out and has a great year, he's going to get probably more money than he was going to get before."
That sound you hear is Virginia McCaskey stacking up some rare Buffalo nickels.
I'm no Jerry Angelo or Tim Ruskell, but Forte looks severely underpaid right around now. I know, I know, first game of the season. But his value is clear, isn't it?
"Yeah, I mean if they don't know that by now," Forte said. "I don't know what else I got to do."
Of course, one win doesn't equal a Super Bowl run and one game doesn't equal financial security. That's not how things work in the NFL, where contract negotiations seem to rival space shuttle launches for complexity. Running backs are certainly disposable nowadays, but the Big Two just set the bar in guaranteed money.
Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson recently signed deals that will get them about $66 million in combined guaranteed money. Forte, who is not even close to those two in name recognition or, let's be honest, eye-popping ability, will be lucky to get a quarter of that. He's looking like a $20 million man.
While Johnson had a terrible game in Jacksonville (49 total yards), Forte showed his value, and certainly his explosiveness, on two key, Johnson-like plays.
He turned a screen pass into a 56-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to make it 10-3, and in the third he ripped off a 27-yard run in which he juked cornerback Dunta Robinson with an ankle-breaking cut so nasty that Derrick Rose shook his head and said, "For real?"
With the defense roaring like it did last season, the Bears' offensive playmakers, most notably Forte and Hester, made the offense look potent.
Forte had 158 all-purpose yards despite playing only one series in the fourth quarter. He had 68 yards on 16 carries and 90 receiving yards on five catches. Last season, he wound up with 1,616 combined yards and nine touchdowns for the 30th-ranked offense. With the Bears in their second year in Mike Martz's offense, expect more games like Sunday for Forte, even when the Bears don't run very much.
But it's not just about numbers, or what he does on Sunday that makes his teammates stump for a new contract.
"It's not only the games," Williams said. "It's the practices, it's the weight room. When you see this guy every day and you see the way he practices, he's a professional. He's one of the best backs in my mind. He has to be."
Forte's touchdown brought to mind his 89-yard catch-and-run on a screen in last season's opening win over Detroit.
This time, Cutler faked a handoff to Earl Bennett running left from the slot and found Forte in Bennett's empty space. Forte got good blocking from new fullback Tyler Clutts and Johnny Knox, and burst through a tight space. While bouncing John Abraham off him, Forte almost high-stepped through traffic before streaking down the right sideline.
"Downfield blocking and the play call," Forte said. "We called a screen, and they were blitzing on that play. So that's less people down the field we have to block. Johnny, I think, had a really good block down there, and the offensive line pulled out and had a great block. When you have a chance to make a big play down there, you have to make it count."
"We had a few guys in front and put some hats on guys," Clutts said. "But he really made it happen."
After a preseason full of contract demands for a few unhappy Bears, I don't think it's gauche to talk dollars and cents, even after such an impressive "team" win. Forte, after all, addressed his displeasure with the Bears on tabling his contract earlier this week.
"I'm a little surprised," he said Wednesday. "I'm disappointed that it wasn't [done]. Coming into the league you feel like this is supposed to be production based. When you produce in the offense, you expect the team or the organization to actually notice that compared to other guys. We just couldn't meet in the middle, I guess."
That's a nice way to say, "I don't know what these fools are thinking, either."
I'm always surprised how quickly fans tend to side with ownership on contract demands. Maybe it has something to do with jealousy and the space between those of us who carry debt and the guys who carry Gucci luggage. But Bears fans are on Forte's side now. #PayForte is the hashtag on the Twitter streets these days.
What fans do worry about, though, is contract insecurity trumping game preparation during the week. Forte showed Sunday that doesn't seem to be an issue.
"Fan support is key," Forte said. "I just thank God I had a good game out there today. I'll continue to do it throughout the entire season and if the Bears don't see my value, I hope some other team will."
If Forte keeps playing like he did Sunday, maybe the Bears should hold out until the season ends. Motivation could be the best thing for both parties.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
Sundays have become paydays for the Bears' Matt Forte.