The Chicago Tribune revealed that the Chicago Bears may sign quarterback Jay Cutler to a long-term deal before inking running back Matt Forte's deal. Any doubt as to whether new GM Phil Emery is concerned about Forte's feelings can be cast aside.
Emery is concerned only with making his organization stronger, and that's all he should be concerned with. This is a business and signing Forte to a long-term deal may be a bad business decision.
The Bears' evaluation of Forte appears to reveal that he's not as vital to the ball club as he may think he is. And the latest news is that Forte feels he's worth about $8.5 million per season.
Since donning a Chicago jersey, Forte has needed a second running back to help him get the tough yards. First the Bears employed Chester Taylor for the gig, and then Marion Barber took those reins. Now, Michael Bush flew over from Oakland to do what Forte has struggled to do—get the tough yards.
Over the course of Forte's professional career he has had 33 rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line. He's only been able to spike the ball on three of those runs. Despite Forte's size (6'2" 218 lbs.), he's just not a goal line back.
The Bears have realized that because of Forte's 33 attempts inside the five, he was only trusted on five attempts in 2011. Like his opportunity to sign a long-term deal, his goal line touches are dwindling.
The crucial question for Chicago is whether or not Bush is an adequate replacement if Forte holds out into the 2012 season. Based on Bush's successful 2011 season, many are quick to anoint him as an every-down back. The numbers prove otherwise.
In 2011, Bush averaged 4.44 yards per carry on his first 134 carries. Like life, in the NFL it's not how you start but how you finish (just ask the New York Giants). Bush's finish was weak. He averaged a measly 3.13 yards per carry on his final 122 rushing attempts.
Bush may be a solid short-yardage back, he's clearly not a work horse back. And most assuredly, he's not an adequate replacement for Forte.
So while Bush—in his limited role—may be key to the Bears' success, Forte's role inside the 20-yard lines is not as vital.
Cutler's recent answer as to how much he misses Forte at OTA's is telling: "[Michael] Bush is doing a good job out here for us."
Perhaps Cutler doesn't miss Forte as much because of the new additions to the passing game. The Bears have added wide receivers Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery for the 2012 season. Both Marshall and Jeffery give Cutler big, tall options at the goal line who can go up and get the jump-ball.
Chicago may look to give Cutler a couple of chances inside the 5-yard line instead of pounding the rock in. Either way, the Bears' passing game looks like it's on the rise, while the running game is in a state of flux.
Forte does have the option of holding out into the 2012 season, but Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune says that's simply not an option.
The best option for Forte is to sign the $7.7 million franchise tender offered by the Bears and produce at a high level this upcoming season. If he's able to stay healthy and put up solid numbers—and work on his short-yardage ability—then a long-term deal with significant money should be awaiting him next offseason.