Being a general manager is like being the high school kid who runs for class president on a platform of healthier cafeteria lunches and longer library hours. They're unpopular stances but have everyone's best interest in mind.
That's how Bears GM Phil Emery must feel. He's been on the job an hour and a half and already faces a stomach-twisting decision: what to do with Matt Forte.
The temptation is there to sign him to a long-term contract. The stud running back is only 26, he put up MVP-like numbers this season before his knee injury and the Bears collapsed down the stretch without him. Nothing would endear management to fans faster than locking him down, either.
Committing to Forte also would be a snap if Emery could make fans sign a We Won't Whine If This Blows Up In Our Faces clause. It doesn't work that way, however. If Forte's knee explodes halfway through a deal loaded with guaranteed money, the cries of "what were the Bears thinking?!" will be deafening.
Before the Bears go all in on Forte, they should consider the tale of Ben Gordon. He scored in bunches for the Bulls and might have made a great long-term running mate for Derrick Rose, especially given Gordon's monster playoff series against Boston in 2009. Yet the Bulls ultimately let the shooting guard, just 26 at the time, walk in free agency and have not lived to regret it.
Why? Because they saw the big picture. The odds of a long-term bet on a running back paying off are slim, and the Bears are better off investing in weapons for the passing game. Just ask the Giants, Patriots, Packers and Saints—not a marquee running back in sight.
It won't win Emery any popularity contests, but using the franchise tag on Forte is the best move. At the very least it buys the Bears a few months to see if his knee withstands real hits. (Sorry, Matt—the Pro Bowl tells us nothing.)
Cold-hearted as it might seem, the long-term health of the Bears depends on Forte taking a small hit for now.
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