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Forte shouldn't rush back from injury

12/13/2011 - NFL Matt Forte Chicago Bears + more

Take your time, Matt.

That would be my advice to Chicago Bears star running back Matt Forte after he suffered what they are calling a Grade 2 sprain of the MCL in his right knee. Early reports indicate that the injury will take 2 to 6 weeks to heal. If I were Forte, I wouldn't step back on the field until I was completely healthy. In fact, I would think long and hard about even trying to get back on the field this season.

Why should he? He has been an absolute workhorse the last four years for the Bears since being drafted in the second round out of Tulane, and yet the organization has failed to reward him with a contract that recognizes his sizable contributions to the team. The last thing he should do is hurry back from an injury before it is fully healed, especially considering that he will be a free agent at season's end.

Yes, football is a team sport and Forte probably wants to be out there battling for a playoff berth with his teammates. However, it is an individual profession, and every player needs to realize he is essentially an independent contractor and his corporation is himself. That's especially true for someone playing a fungible position like running back on a rookie contract the way Forte is.

Forte has been vocal for months about his desire for a new contract. He believes he deserves it and, to be fair, the Bears have acknowledged as much publicly. The problem is determining the proper value. Forte has seen the $20-30 million in guarantees that the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and the Titans' Chris Johnson have received and believes he deserves a similar contract. He's right -- he leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,487.

But that doesn't mean the Bears have to be the ones that give it to him. I don't blame the Bears for the stance that they've taken. This is not a "Bash the Bears" column. The Bears have offered Forte a contract reportedly with $13 to 14 million in guarantees. That is the value they have placed on his services, knowing that they have the leverage of putting the franchise tag on Forte after the season.

In fact, Forte's injury may be proof that the Bears have taken the right approach. What if they had just given him the gigantic contract he was looking for and his injury was far worse? It can happen -- just ask the Cincinnati Bengals about Leon Hall.

That's why the Bears are probably doing the prudent thing by making Forte play out his existing contract. As long as Forte plays under that relatively paltry rookie deal, all of the injury risk is on him. That's why I don't blame a player with a below-market rookie deal for holding out and also why I highly encourage them to think long and hard about any possible extensions. The possibility of a career-ending injury is omnipresent.

The Bears are just looking out for their own interests. That's business and that's life. Now it's time for Forte to do the same.

Don't play unless you feel completely healthy, Matt.

From the inbox

Q. How did orthopedic surgeon James Andrews corner the market on high-profile NFL injuries? It seems like whenever a superstar gets injured, Dr. Andrews is the one performing the corrective surgery. Now, I'm sure he's a wonderful surgeon, but surely there must be other excellent surgeons available to the players on NFL rosters; why do so many seem to end up under his care?

James from Washington, D.C.

A. Reputation and experience. I'm not sure exactly how it started in the mid-1980s, but I guess that as in any other profession, he did a good job for a couple of high-profile patients and then word quickly spread. Now, like high-profile lawyers and doctors in other fields, his reputation precedes him. People go to him because of his extensive client list and because he is widely considered the best at what he does. You're right, though, there are a lot of other excellent surgeons out there. He will be 70 years old soon, so it will be interesting to see who becomes the next surgeon for the superstars.

Q. With all of the rules to protect players, why are offensive players still allowed to stiff-arm defensive players in the face mask? Hands to the face by any other player on the field at any time is a 15-yard penalty, but a running back can literally punch a linebacker in the face and it's OK? Am I missing something here?

Jason from Saline, Mich.

A. I totally agree and think this is something that the NFL should look into. The thought process has always been that it is fine for somebody to stiff-arm so long as he doesn't grasp the defender's face mask. But I think that in this era of heightened awareness regarding head injuries and brain trauma, it doesn't make sense to allow anybody to take a legal shot at another player's head. Some of those stiff-arms can really be jolting.

Q. I was just wondering, when a player is in the NFL, how important is the college he went to? For instance, do college rivalries "carry over" for NFL players?

Cailean from Madison, Wis.

A. It really varies from player to player and school to school. Some guys still really care about their alma maters and take it to heart. Other guys couldn't care less. In general, it always seemed like the players from the SEC would talk about their college days or an upcoming game the most. The rivalries carry over for NFL teammates but it is all in good fun. Michigan guys will poke fun at Ohio State guys if the Buckeyes are struggling and vice versa. Often there will be a friendly wager placed on a game and the loser will have to wear the opposing team's T-shirt all week or something of that ilk. There is really no carryover for NFL opponents, however. Nobody is trying to go after a specific player on the other team because of something that happened back in college.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.