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A look at the Contractual Situation of Matt Forte
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A Look at the Contractual Situation of Matt Forte

In recent weeks the incredible play of Matt Forte has led to Forte becoming the name most consistently mentioned by reporters as a player who needs a contract extension. If you are a Twitter person, almost every Sunday or Monday you will see name like Jason LaCanfora and Peter King constantly bringing up the point about how the Bears donít pay him and how much better of a season he is having that other big money players. Forte wanted an extension early in the year and the Bears have declined to renegotiate the terms of his deal and do not seem to be willing to budge on it. Forte is in the final season of a contract he signed as a rookie in 2008 and only makes $600,000 this season.

Forte has had a solid career with the Bears. As a rookie he ranked 3rd in yards from scrimmage among running backs compiling 1715 yards out of the backfield. His production declined to 1400 yards and 1616 yards in 2009 and 2010, but that was still good enough to be right around the top 10 in the NFL. This year he leads the league with 1091 yards from scrimmage and he has been spectacular on the field. He is on a pace for nearly 2500 yards and is being mentioned by some of those same reporters as a possible MVP candidate. So why are the Bears even waiting?

It all comes down to the position. This is something I touched on when looking at Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans before the season began. Running backs get paid off of one special season. They donít even need that season right before they get a new deal. They just need that one year to be fresh enough in the minds of the teams to make them show the player the money. We saw that with DeAngelo Williams getting what, at the time, was a top of the market contract despite coming off a disappointing injury plagued season in 2010. Chris Johnson was a full year removed from his peak when he signed his new contract this year as was Adrian Peterson.

But those special seasons never happen again. They usually donít even come close. Here are some of the biggest money contract players at running back over the last 10 years or so, the age at which they had their big season and how many yards were gained in that big season.

Name Age Big Year Yards Yds per Touch
Chris Johnson 24 2509 6.15
LaDainian Tomlinson 23 2370 5.74
Steven Jackson 23 2334 5.35
Larry Johnson 27 2199 4.81
Frank Gore 23 2180 5.84
Brian Westbrook 28 2104 5.71
Clinton Portis 22 1905 5.81
Adrian Peterson 23 1885 4.9
DeAngelo Williams 25 1636 5.54
Average 2124.67 5.54

The table does show just how incredible Forteís season will be if he keeps the same pace. It will be just under the great season Johnson had back in 2009 and better than anyone else on the list. But the problem is the players get paid for that big year and never come close to form again. The following table shows the players average season stats in the years following the big year. For the older players I cut their stats off after a few years and for active players the stats for this year are extrapolated based on them playing in all the remaining games of the season.

Name Average Yds Avg YPT % of Best Yds % of Best YPT Best Year (%Yds)
Chris Johnson 1352 4.03 -46.1% -34.5% -35.9%
LaDainian Tomlinson 1883 4.94 -20.5% -13.9% -2.0%
Steven Jackson 1416 4.62 -39.3% -13.6% -25.5%
Larry Johnson 785 4.02 -64.3% -16.4% -56.9%
Frank Gore 1482 5.12 -32.0% -12.3% -25.1%
Brian Westbrook 761 4.9 -63.8% -14.2% -36.4%
Clinton Portis 1466 4.44 -23.0% -23.6% -9.1%
Adrian Peterson 1732 5.02 -8.1% 2.4% -3.5%
DeAngelo Williams 890 5.17 -45.6% -6.7% -16.3%
Average 1307.44 4.70 -38.1% -14.8% -23.4%

Its an incredible fall. The average fall for a RB is 38% in total contribution. Itís just under 15% in terms of yards per touch. The average ďnext best yearĒ is 23.4% off the record pace and only Tomlinson has come close to equaling it in 2006, which is why he is going to the Hall of Fame. Most players dramatically fall. The only players to have seasons within 20% of their breakout are Adrian Peterson (on pace for three times), Williams(once), Tomlinson (twice), and Portis (three times). Portis numbers are exaggerated because the Redskins kept giving him the ball even though he was ineffective as his YPT was never better than -22.7% of his contract setting year. Other players have seen their YPT stay closer to the great season but saw their touches reduced because of injuries or noticeable declines in play once carries went past a certain level, in essence becoming part time players making a fortune.

What makes this worse is that Forte is already on the older end of things. He will be 26 at the end of this season making him older than all but Johnson and Westbrook. Johnson never again gained 1000 yards and Westbrook did it once, falling 37% one year removed from his super season, before falling off a cliff and quickly out of the NFL. Williams was a year younger and while never as good of a player did have one year where he was within 10% of his great season. At 27 years old the average decline is just under 35%. By 28 the decline was just under 46%, not including Portis since he was completely done and so far removed from his big year at that point. Westbrook had his big year at 28, but he, like L. Johnson, was not really a full time player from the start. The 2000 yard players all drop big. The average season was 44% off the pace and the best year was 30% off the pace. Tomlinson was the only guy to even come close to doing anything like it again.

So how does that work out for Forte? Looking at the 2000 yard guys you would be looking at an average of about 1390 yards a year with a best year of around 1740 yards. When you take the age factor into account those numbers will decline even more. You would expect his best season to come next year around 1630 yards. By 2013 that would be 1350 yards. Beyond that you would probably have a player that projects to struggle to reach much more than 1000 yards. That first year would be around the top 10 in the league. The second year maybe the top 15. Beyond that you are completely in the anyone can do it territory.

This is why for running backs they need to get in and out of college as fast as they can and get into the NFL. Its about finding a college that will start you immediately so you can show off enough to get drafted right away. If you are not lucky enough to find that program your next best bet is coming into the NFL and finding a situation where you are 1 of 2 players getting touches. At least then you might be able to preserve your body a little and make teams think there is minimal wear and tear on your tires.

Will some team pony up and show Forte the money? You have to think that the Bears are not planning on making the move. It would make sense to pay him now before the production falls off and they have yet to do it. They have the cap room, with 17 million in cap room in 2011 and one of the lowest cap figures allocated for next year, but they arent making a move. It only takes one and you have to think one team is crazy enough to do it because of the year he is having. But the reality is you are looking at a contract that you have to get out of within 3 years and it cant be one where you are paying for top level production like the Vikings and Titans signed with their guys. Tennessee has to be regretting that decision right now. If I was the GM of a team I donít think I would pay Forte anywhere near what the top players at the position make. His anticipated production is what you get out of players that make between 4 and 6 million a season with somewhere between 8 and 10 million guaranteed. He is going to look for a lot more, and likely some team will do it, but it is a very difficult move to justify given his age and what he may be looking to get on the open market.

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