NFL general managers and coaches that are given absolute power over their teams have to make many tough decisions in the process of putting together a viable team, and one of the biggest decisions that will be made this offseason will be by new Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery. Emery, who’s well regarded as a bright personnel man, will have to decide on the future of his running back position, specifically if he will bring back franchise runner Matt Forte.
The significance of this decision on the 6’1″, 218-pound tailback is one that will be made based on the value of the athlete, his position, and how it fits the offensive system.
Starting with the value of Forte and his position, the running back position is one that has a short career because of the beating a runner takes. Generally, teams will look to avoid spending a significant sum of money because it’s a position that can be easily replaced.
However, there are certain instances in which the athlete will be difficult to replace because of the workload he takes on as well as what he brings to the team by being on the field every down. In the case of Forte, the latter is the situation that he’s in at the moment. He’s vital to the success of an offense that’s already lacking explosive play makers.
Moreover, last season’s offense was directed by offensive coordinator and play caller Mike Martz. Martz, who’s known as a pass-happy football guru that was heavily influenced by the legendary Don Coryell (who should be in the Hall of Fame, by the way!). Martz’s offense was centralized around the running back — as it always is — and the versatility of Forte brought a significant amount of flexibility to Martz’s gameplans because he could consistently run and catch the ball and stay in the backfield as an extra blocker.
Despite this systematic fit and talent, he’s coming off an injury and will be turning 27 in December, which leaves Emery asking himself if it’s worth giving Forte a long-term contract when his skills could diminish quickly. One way to answer that question is to evaluate the strong and weak points of Forte’s game.
Strengths: vision and patience
I usually select only one characteristic of a player’s game to highlight, but with Forte I had to include vision and patience because it’s unlikely a runner will develop those two skills. Instead, the player either has it or he doesn’t — and Forte has it.
He shows the ability to be patient to the hole and then run fast through it, which is often taught to running backs, although it doesn’t always stick. He does this by reading his blocks and making jump cuts that resemble bounces, and that allows him go from gap to gap before eventually finding the alley — a running lane — that was created by his vision and patience. This also helps lead his blockers into defenders, as can be seen at the 52-second mark here:
The run initially appears to be going for no-gain, but Forte’s vision and patience nearly turn it into a first down that moves the chains.
Typically athlete’s have their strong and weak points, but there is not a glaring weakness in the on-field performance of Forte. In years past, one could have pointed to his fumbles, as he had six in 2009, but he’s since improved on that. One could also point to his lack of significant touchdown totals, but he hasn’t had a great supporting cast, especially the offensive line. He’s become a complete player since coming out of the University of Tulane by improving all areas of his game.
Off the field, the only issue is that he’s injury prone and is only getting older at a position that has a quick decline. Forte will be three years away from that 30 plateau in 2012, but he’s due to receive a new contract that will likely have the Bears paying him past that mark, leaving them possibly hesitant to construct a new deal despite his talent.
Because of the talent that Forte possesses and the consistent performances that he’s put together over the course of his four-year career, he’s worthy of a contract extension that pays him near top dollar.
I’m typically not in favor of paying a running back a significant amount of money, however I am partial to special talents. In my opinion, the Bears and lead negotiator Cliff Stein are likely to re-sign Forte with an incentive-laden deal that will protect the team in the future, and give their franchise running back a fair pay day.