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Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Updated: June 7, 6:44 PM ET
Front offices playing an unfair game

By Scoop Jackson
ESPNChicago.com

Let's put this Matt Forte dilemma into a different perspective.

Say you are a young chef doing a stint at a very successful restaurant, working for one of the greatest chefs in the world. Now the restaurant isn't yours and you aren't the head chef, but you are at the sous level. The plates you create begin to get recognized around the country and you are being called one of the nation's best young chefs -- one most other five-star restaurants would kill to have in their kitchens. You're career is beginning to buzz.

Matt Forte
The Bears are using Matt Forte's heavy workload against him in contract negotiations.

Say the restaurant at which you work recognizes your talent, but doesn't honor it. The owner, perhaps the chef whose name is on the establishment, doesn't necessarily want you to leave, but he's not giving you any reasons to stay. You have options and are in demand. So you leave. Time to test the market.

Say you then open your own restaurant, and within a few years, you get the James Beard Foundation Award as the best chef in America and after that your restaurant is voted the best restaurant in America by Gourmet, Food and Wine and Travel and Leisure magazines.

A few years later Time includes you in the TIME100, a list of the "100 most influential people in the world."

The point? Finding your true worth when others might not see or fully appreciate it has its privileges. Sometimes, it becomes your blessing in disguise. In the case of Matt Forte with the Chicago Bears, he may need to follow that lead. Follow the path of a world-class chef and use it as a guide and inspiration for what can happen to someone when he does the opposite of what everyone seems to be telling him to do.

Sometimes it's just not smart to listen to the world when your heart is telling you to do something different.

The world seems to be telling Forte to take what the Bears are currently offering him and run. And catch … and block … and continue to be the second-most important offensive player on the roster.

Stop holding out and accept the franchise tag, which will pay him $7.7 million this season (a significant upgrade from what he made last season, when he was paid $600,000), have the same season he had last season before he was injured then come back to the table and get the contract from the Bears that he was looking for when this whole thing began.

But when Forte's contemporaries around the league are continuously being compensated with more secure, long-term packages, why should he be the one in the group to settle for less?

Take a look at these deals:

  • LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia (five-year extension/$45M/$20M guaranteed)
  • Chris Johnson, Tennessee (six years/$56M)
  • Adrian Peterson, Minnesota (seven years/$96M)
  • Arian Foster, Houston (five years/$43.5M)
  • Forte -- along with Baltimore's Ray Rice, who is also in the middle of a contentious negotiation -- falls somewhere on that list. His play has earned him the right to be in the same conversations with those other running backs. His play has also allowed him to decline the "strong offer" (words of former GM Jerry Angelo) Chicago initially put on the table or the franchise tag that they've placed on him since his initial decline of that offer.

    It's a game that Forte and his agent, Adisa Bakari, are apparently not willing to play right now.

    They have options.

    And the reason they are continuing to hold out is because they are tired of the games.

    Games -- not all, but too many -- teams play in which they want the player to overproduce and when the player does they hold it against them in contract negotiations; ownership saying the "shelf life of a running back is short" as a new way of devaluing a player regardless of what he does and using it as leverage against the value of the player's pending contract.

    Age? Please. Here's how this absurdity works: Ray Rice (25) is under the 26-year-old time frame that the league and the media seem to be throwing out there as the new age limit for when a running back starts to decline in production. But in the contract talks, the team will bring up the fact that Rice has averaged over 280 carries and 72 receptions a year over the past three seasons.

    Ray Rice
    Like Forte, Ray Rice appears to be the victim of an unfair market for running backs.

    So now he's overworked. Now, they'll use that as the reason Rice's 25-year-old body is closer to 32 in football years.

    Now that it is contract-talk time, and Rice is good to them and for them, he's damaged goods. And the reason he's damaged? The same people refusing to extend his contract are the people who had coaches call his number and run plays for him to outperform his previous deal.

    (If this is the new standard procedure of how NFL teams are going to monetarily access running backs, the entire structure of rookie contracts for players at that position needs to change.)

    It's straight games. Games that the NFL seems to be playing, games certain players are tired of having to play.

    Players in the NFL already have very little power. The only true leverage they have in contract negotiations is the value of their past productivity. The future for any player at any position in the league is a risk, but to single out running backs the way that they have over the past decade -- making them almost disposable commodities when their contracts expire -- can only be called disingenuous at best.

    But then again this is business, and we are dealing with an organization that underpaid -- and at times undervalued -- Walter Payton.

    So regardless of how you feel about Matt Forte and how he and his agent are handling this contract situation with the Bears, understand this: They have just as much right to hold out as the Bears do to play the contract game the way they seem to be playing it.

    No side is right in this situation, but Forte shouldn't be looked at as being wrong. He is standing his ground and doing what he feels is necessary for his career.

    It's his career. Just as it is their team.