The franchise tag only clarifies Forte's worth to the team; The Bears are willing to commit to a $7.7 million contract to Forte in 2012 - any more than that is in question.
Former Packers contract negotiator Andrew Brandt explains why the Bears are wrestling with how much to pour into Matt Forte's bank account in a report.
"The hardest position to sink long-term money into is running back because it has the shortest shelf life," Brandt told the Philadelphia Daily News. "There's a graveyard of bad contracts that were given to running backs over a certain age going back to Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Jamal Anderson and Shaun Alexander."
But there's a big difference between Matt Forte and those guys. The players noted were used as relentless battering rams, often leading the league in rushing attempts and yards. Forte isn't that kind of player. He's more along the lines of a Thurman Thomas or maybe a Ricky Watters - an every-down back with the pass-catching skills of a 3rd down back.
Any coach that sends Forte blasting into the line repeatedly is just begging for an injury. It seemed the Bears were aware of that when they brought in Marion "Denver Disaster" Barber and now, Michael Bush. Nearly every team employs two running backs sharing the load. You use Forte for flash and Bush for smash.
Without Forte, the Bears running attack looks very ordinary. He's a special guy. He's only played four years. And he's 26 years old. Most running backs fall apart at 30. He's entering his prime. Before he blew a tire last year, he was averaging 4.9 yards a rush.
What's more, Forte has carried the ball fewer times every year. Last year, he carried just 203 times. Leading up to Shaun Alexander's implosion, he carried 326, 353 and 370 times. You're burning a lot of tread off a back's tires when you use him that often.
Considering the addition of Brandon Marshall, the Bears will likely have a more open field in 2012. Imagine Forte catching the ball five yards past the line of scrimmage, then darting to the end zone. He has the ability to make people miss. And you can't put a price on that.
Sign him to a 4-year deal, and then cut him loose when he hits 30. The window on this Bears defense is closing, so the time to hit the gas on offense is now.