Bears appear to have leverage in money battle with Forte

Though he compares favorably with top backs, it appears club doesn't value him comparably

Sometimes it seems the closer the Bears get to training camp, the further they are from signing Matt Forte to a new contract.

In fairness, negotiations have been hush-hush, so we really don't know where the sides are. But the outward signs are not optimistic.

With help from four personnel men, a team negotiator and a respected player agent, the Tribune examined the Forte dilemma, and how it could be solved.

How Forte stacks up

To determine how NFL teams evaluate Forte, I asked four front office men to rank the top running backs. For purposes of salary slotting, teams often will place players in tiers.

A "blue" player is a difference maker. A "red-plus" player is a notch below a difference maker and a notch higher than above average.

Here are the blue running backs:

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings: He clearly is the best, assuming he can come back from his torn ACL.

2. Chris Johnson, Titans: He needs to have a bounce back season to stay in this category.

3. Arian Foster, Texans: This power runner gives the Texans an identity and is a new entrant into the elite category.

Here are the red-plus running backs:

5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: "He has been doing it forever behind a so-so offensive line," an AFC front office man said.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens: Rice's all around-game elevates his value.

7. Forte: 7. An NFC personnel man pointed out if career numbers alone defined Forte, he might not compare favorably to some of the top backs. But he also pointed out he does a lot for the Bears.

Said another front office man: "Forte can do everything. That's why I like him. He doesn't have any weaknesses. You wish he were more physical at times and played more to his size (6 feet 2, 220 pounds), but he's very athletic and so well rounded."

8. LeSean McCoy, Eagles: "He's more elusive than Forte, a better space player and he gives you more big plays," a personnel director said. "He is electric. Forte doesn't create on his own as much. But he has more size and power. Both have good vision, good hands. McCoy is faster and scares you more in the open field. It's a tossup between them as to who you rather would have."

9. Frank Gore, 49ers: He has a career rushing average of 4.7 yards, and he is a fine receiver.

10. Steven Jackson, Rams: He has had seven straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons, playing for mostly bad teams, but is "descending," at 29 in July according to one personnel director.

11. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: He has a nice combination of power and burst, and can attack a defense inside or outside.

CHICAGO

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