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High Profile RB Deals Help Set Market for Forte - Bears Could Make Concessions

Deals for Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch have helped establish the 2012 Running Back market. Should the Bears' new GM stick to his guns, or acquiesce to the demands of #22?

With the franchise tag coming and going Monday afternoon, it was absolutely no surprise that the Bears put the franchise tag on Matt Forte late last week. Now the Bears have a decision to make...give Forte the similar money he's reportedly looking for, or part ways with the 26 year old running back. I hate to tell you this Bears fans, but it may not be unreasonable for the Bears to consider having someone else line up in the backfield for the 2012 season.

Now, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me indeed note the following from the Sun-Times:

Emery reportedly was scheduled to meet with Forte's agent, Adisa Bakari, at the NFL combine.

On Friday, when the Bears announced that they put the franchise tag on Forte, Bakari said the move wasn't a "surprise at all." Emery reinforced the organization's belief in Forte "as a player and a person."

"Our intention is to continue to work to find common ground and keep Matt as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2012 and beyond," Emery said in a statement.

Now, the general idea behind the franchise tag is for teams to be able to lock up that talent that they feel is vital to the team, while maintaining exclusive negotiating rights to get that person into a long term deal. At this stage in negotiations, there is absolutely no reason for either side to alienate the other, so the courteous and respectful words ring, at best, generally polite.

But what if getting them locked up isn't necessarily in the best interests of the team? All things considered, let's take a look at the two deals most likely to have an effect on Forte's contract:

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
4 years, $31,000,000
$18,000,000 guaranteed

Arian Foster, Houston Texans
5 years, Up to $43,500,000
$20,750,000 guaranteed

Nothing official was ever put out, but previous reports had the Bears offering Forte $13-14 million guaranteed. That was during the Angelo regime, though. Phil Emery is in charge now, and he's seen the dangers first hand of giving out big money to a running back. (In late 2010, Jamaal Charles signed a five-year deal worth $32.5 million. $13 million guaranteed dollars watched Jamaal Charles suffer an ACL injury in Week 2, losing an entire season.)

Locking Forte up with the franchise tag for two years would be roughly $17 million. But is that money necessarily well spent? Charles was a third round pick. Foster was undrafted. Running backs in today's NFL are far different than they were. You can find a lot of decent guys to gouout and churn yards, and for a far cheaper rate than $8 million dollars per year.

Let's take a look at some career stats, too.

Name G GS RushAtt RushYds Y/A RushTDs Rec RecYds Y/R RecTD
Lynch 72 63 1137 4542 4 35 143 1020 7.1 2
Forte 60 60 1014 4233 4.2 21 223 1985 8.9 8
Foster 35 27 659 3097 4.7 29 127 1314 10.3 4

As we can see here, Forte has put a lot of miles on. In just over 100 less attempts, he's only about 300 yards shy of Marshawn Lynch in terms of running yards. Foster, in about 400 less attempts, is only 1200 yards shy of Forte, and that's in just over half as many games. Additionally, Forte doesn't get in the end zone on the ground nearly as much as the other two, and that's sort of the point, isn't it?

And that's important--Forte has taken a lot of punishment in the 60 games he's played so far. He suffered his first major setback last season, having a knee injury that knocked him out of the last four games of the season. Knee injuries, especially in running backs, can often be recurring. Another important factor to consider when determining whether you should make him one of the best paid guys at his position.

"But Kev," you say, "Forte has way more receiving yards, and more receiving touchdowns than both of them combined. That's all good, however, THERE ARE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS WHEN YOUR RUNNING BACK IS CATCHING THE BALL THAT MUCH. That much was evident in the oft-dysfunctional Martz system, while the personnel wasn't particularly spectacular, either.

If the Bears get any of the wide receivers that we fans are clamoring for, the reception from the running back position should decrease, making one of Forte's great skillsets less vital to the team.

It's really all speculation at this point. The team could announce today that they've signed Forte, and it wouldn't be a surprise. They could say they're at an impasse, and the deal won't get resolved. I'm not saying it should happen, but it could. Letting Forte walk at this point in his career wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen, but it would break a lot of our hearts.