Something struck me as I followed Matt Forte's and then his agent's reactions to the Bears' signing of Michael Bush. If negotiations between them and the Bears were ongoing and healthy, why would they take the Bush signing so personally thereby taking the negotiations to the one place the Bears don't want them to go, to the media?
After days of mulling it over, the one answer I keep coming back to is that it's possible, if not likely, that the negotiations are not going well, hence the public expressions of frustration. That answer led me to another very serious question. What happens if the Bears realize that they are too far apart to ever reach common ground with Matt Forte? What then?
Matt Forte took a big risk not holding out last season when he should have while the money was far less than he stands to lose should he hold out this season. The good thing for him is that he made his gamble pay off by raising his value to that of a Pro Bowl caliber running back. For the Bears, Matt Forte's Pro Bowl berth caused his asking price to rise even higher than they were already unwilling to pay last year.
The problem with this for the Bears is that Matt Forte's contributions to the offense look to be going down next year and hence his value, if you will. Though the Bears are going to be running the ball more under Mike Tice's “new” offense, the early word is they are going to be moving to a two back rotation which will lessen Forte's touches thereby lessening his chances of seeing the Pro Bowl in 2013. Add in the fact that Matt Forte will likely catch fewer passes after the Brandon Marshall acquisition and it's very likely that Forte's market value will not be any higher than it is right now.
Value notwithstanding, the Bears did not put the franchise tag on Matt Forte with the intention of actually having him play under it in my humble opinion. If the Bears were to let Forte play under the $7.7M tag in 2012, then one way or another, they would be seriously overpaying for Forte when combining the tag with either a new contract or a second tag in 2013 (which in itself is highly unlikely). Worst of all, letting Forte play under the tag puts him one step closer to free agency thereby increasing the possibility of losing him without getting anything in return. I believe the Bears tagged Forte to buy themselves a little more time to negotiate with him. The question is how much more time did they buy?
You can only have the same argument so many times before you finally have to agree to disagree. The Bears can't keep negotiating forever. In the case of the NFL, there's a convenient little schedule of events that serves to set milestones if not deadlines for the settlement of arguments such as these. One of them is quickly approaching and that is the 2012 NFL Draft. If the Bears already know that they are too far apart to ever see common ground with Matt Forte, then their best chance at getting the most value for him is to trade him before the 2012 NFL draft.
Whichever team trades for Matt Forte will have to have some already agreed upon contract parameters before trading for him otherwise the trading team wouldn’t give up picks for just one year’s worth of service. After the trade would be executed, a new deal would be signed and we would all find out just how much money the Bears weren’t willing to pay. Judgments should at least wait to be made until then, if they should be made at all. I’ll reserve my opinion/criticism of the Bears and/or Matt Forte until that day, if it comes.
If Matt Forte is traded, I won't begrudge the Bears nor Forte. They would both be doing what's right from their sides of the negotiation. Yes, we fans have "invested" plenty of love, emotion, and possibly money in following both Forte and the Bears, but that's the risk we take as fans of a pro sports team. As passionate of a fan as I clearly am, I always try to be a pro as a sports fan rather than simply a fan of pro sports. It is a business after all, nothing personal.