-- The franchise tag: From a financial perspective, it might make more sense for the Bears to franchise Forte in 2012 at $7.7 million and in 2013 at $9.24 million (120 percent of the 2012 franchise number) than it does to sign him to a five- or six-year deal worth say, an average of $9 million per year with more than $20 million guaranteed.
"Straight down that street is the Police Department," Nathaniel says.
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His survival skills are sharp after years on the streets, but he moves warily at times, and feels for the sawed-off wooden chair leg attached to his belt and hidden under a sweater tied around his waist. He remembers how that man looked after the horrible beating. Maybe it was a drug deal, he says, or a hustle gone bad.
"Did they have to beat him like that?" he asks.
I ask Nathaniel if he ever thinks about sleeping on safer streets, or cleaning up a bit and getting an apartment somewhere.
No, he says. This is his turf.
"I'd rather die where I know my way around. I'm out here breathing fresh air, and I'm not trapped in some apartment, cooped up and unheard of."
This is exactly what's so frustrating about Nathaniel. He can sound so sensible, even eloquent. But his irrational choices reveal the depth of his mental illness.
Nathaniel takes a cloth strap and lashes his shopping cart to the metal door of the storefront. Then he unpacks for the night, a ritual he performs while telling me the meaning of his music and his life.
"My vision -- I hate to admit it -- but I'm going to have to do what Mozart did, and die. My vision is to stay in good with God and not worry about far-off stuff, just get across the street safely and be thankful. Honor thy mother and father, don't be disrespectful to people, be good, and maybe the music will take care of itself."
Not five feet away, a young ashen-faced man slumps down and lights a crack pipe.
Helicopters chop up the night, an amputee rolls by in a wheelchair and Nathaniel chases away cockroaches the size of Volkswagens.
"My god doesn't have a special name," Nathaniel says without my asking. "Beethoven could be my god."
He'd been to the library earlier in the day looking for sheet music, carrying a list of the pieces he wants. A Brahms double concerto. Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra. Mendelssohn's Third and Fourth Symphonies. Sibelius' Symphony No. 2. Strauss' "Don Quixote."
He couldn't find them, but was thrilled to come away with Camille Saint-Saens' Concerto for Violoncello.
"There's something like 18 or 19 notes in a single pickup," he says with a child's awe. "It's very pleasing that Saint-Saens had all those ideas and was fast enough to get this all down."
Out comes a whisk broom and Nathaniel, perhaps the most compulsively neat person I've ever met, sweeps the sidewalk where he intends to sleep.
"Have to get all this nasty business out of here," he says. He's particularly disgusted by cigarette butts.
The job done, he turns to me.
"Welcome to my humble abode."
Then Nathaniel reaches into the bottom of his cart and offers me a can of Shasta Tiki Punch soda.
But from a locker room perspective, it probably makes more sense to reward a loyal soldier now.
-- Bears missed window of opportunity: The time to sign Forte was last offseason, but the Bears probably undervalued him then. It is believed they offered him a little more than $6 million per year.
Since that time, Forte's price has gone up in part because he had a career year and because the deals of Williams, Foster and McCoy, among others, have driven up the market.
If the Bears had offered $7.5 per year last summer, it's possible Forte would be under contract now.
-- Value of the position: Teams value running backs differently. Some believe they are fairly interchangeable and replaceable, even if they are gifted, and that the running game is more about mentality than ability. Some don't trust running backs past their 29th birthday, given the history of short careers.
"Every team has a different scheme, style, a different home field and value for the position and subsequently the individual," said a front office man who negotiates contracts for his team.
The franchise of Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, George McAfee, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, oddly enough, apparently does not value running backs as much as some franchises.
Forte and Bakari were hoping the general manager changeover from Jerry Angelo to Phil Emery would change this. But given the continued stalemate, it appears little has changed in how the Bears view Forte's value.
Finding middle ground
What has become clear: Forte seemingly is not going to get all he wants from the Bears. And if they get Forte to sign a long-term deal, they likely are going to have to give more than they think he's worth.
I asked a respected player agent what he thought a fair deal for Forte would be. He said he would agree to a five-year contract with an average per year of $8 million, a three-year average per year of $8.5 million and $19.5 million in guarantees.
The team negotiator gave me similar numbers when asked for a fair contract for Forte, but indicated he would be willing to go as high as $8.5 million on the average per year with $20 million guaranteed. That would put the total potential value at $42.5 million.
It is believed Bakari was asking for $8.5 per year before the McCoy deal. That may be more than the Bears are willing to pay.
In the absence of a mutual compromise, the franchise tag may have to do.