- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- We assume Matt Forte is happy now.
We know Chicago Bears fans are in lockstep there.
And that's all good. Most importantly, a healthy Forte will be back on the field when training camp starts in another week, presumably in more of a supporting role than the pack mule he was forced to be in the past but which nonetheless made it possible to show just how valuable he was.
A few hours before Monday's 3 p.m. CT deadline, Forte agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with more than $18 million guaranteed, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, averting a holdout, which are never positive for anyone. The Bears came up a bit from the franchise tender of approximately $7.7 million and down from an earlier five-year proposal, according to ESPNChicago.com's Michael Wright, which should also satisfy Forte.
Does a happy Matt Forte guarantee a Super Bowl? Obviously not. The '85 Bears were far from a satisfied group en route to the title. Conversely, guys have been rewarded since then and it did not necessarily have positive big-picture results. Nor did it assure organizational harmony. Let's face it: While teammates may be genuinely happy for one another when one is rewarded with a lucrative contract, it has little or nothing to do with individual satisfaction.
Still this was an important deal, and it's a big day for the Bears and first-year general manager Phil Emery, who has done what Jerry Angelo could not do last summer regarding Forte. Emery has had an offseason that looks now to be potentially just short of a rousing success. That's banking on Brandon Marshall performing as most of us expect, and Emery's draft picks -- specifically the first two -- panning out.
If the Bears' static offensive line does not greatly reduce the pressure on Jay Cutler, the second-guessing will still come fast and furiously at Emery for failing to upgrade there. But for now, he gets high marks and is allowed to feel good at least for one day.
Forte's guaranteed $18 million could give the team a bit of cap relief the first couple years. Hopefully it keeps Forte motivated throughout the deal. That part is never a guarantee.
Symbolically, it sends the proverbial message not just to Bears players but to future Bears players that the team can play ball as compared to the rest of the league and not just hardball with its own. Though Forte's contract talks seemed to pale in comparison to those of say, Houston's Arian Foster, who signed a five-year, $43.5 million deal and will make $18 million this season and $30 million in the first three years, it would have been foolish for the Bears and terribly cap unfriendly to structure Forte's deal that way.
Forte ends up being in roughly the same neighborhood as DeAngelo Williams and his five-year, $43 million deal ($21 million guaranteed) to stay with Carolina. And it's almost the same deal signed Sunday by Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, who will reportedly receive $22.5 million the first three years from Seattle. Baltimore's Ray Rice can now probably expect much the same.
So goes the notion that running backs are losing their value in the pass-happy NFL. But while signing running backs to sizable contracts is always something of a risk, the Bears avoided a major distraction at the start of one of the most optimistic training camps in years. They ensure that Forte is prepared when the season begins. And ethically, they did the right thing.
At 26, Forte has averaged 1,058 rushing yards in four seasons with the Bears and more than 1,500 all-purpose yards, with at least 51 catches per year and 29 touchdowns in 60 games.
While his numbers could and should drop this season, it likely will not be a reflection of his ability or his worth. He is a popular player among teammates and fans, viewed as both a loyal foot soldier and a star player, durable and dependable, and more importantly for the Bears, one of their own.
At least for one day, that actually counted for something.
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