Commentary

Michael Bush deal hurts Forte's value

Updated: March 22, 2012, 2:40 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

These running back landing spots rarely end the way we think they should. The world would seem to spin much more smoothly on its axis, for example, if DeAngelo Williams didn't re-sign with the Carolina Panthers, if the New Orleans Saints didn't trade up to draft Mark Ingram or if the Kansas City Chiefs trusted Jamaal Charles' knee enough not to sign Peyton Hillis. But those who disdain a "fantasy football" mindset are in this small way absolutely correct. The best players don't wind up getting distributed among all the various NFL teams. If only.

Bush
Bush

I say all this to announce: Michael Bush agreed to terms on a four-year contract Thursday to play for the Chicago Bears. But unfortunately, the Bears already have a pretty good RB on their roster, albeit one with a thorny contract situation: Matt Forte. And so begins another fantasy coin flip.

It would've been much more poetic to see Bush sign with the Cincinnati Bengals (who instead inked BenJarvus Green-Ellis) or Pittsburgh Steelers, each of whom has a far clearer need and path to potential fantasy stardom for an up-and-coming RB. But that's not the world we live in. Bush goes from an often-frustrating platoon with Darren McFadden with the Oakland Raiders to splitting carries with Forte. And all we can do is try and read the tea leaves.

Listen, Bush probably shouldn't be anybody's 300-carry back. After McFadden was lost for the season early in Week 7 last year, Bush came out like gangbusters, but he faded late:

When you watched the tape as the season progressed, you saw less lateral quickness and more plowing straight ahead into linebackers. Bush is a huge guy (listed at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds but probably heavier) and a thumper, but usually won't break long runs. In those final six contests, only three of his 117 carries went for longer than 10 yards, and none went for longer than 20. It was probably a reach to imagine that he was ready to join the upper echelon of fantasy RBs.

But did he have to get paired with Forte? Before he suffered a season-ending knee sprain early in Week 13 last season, Forte was averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He was third in the NFL in rushing yards, second among all RBs in receiving yards and first in total yards from scrimmage. Something that had often seemed lacking from his game during his first three seasons -- long speed -- was suddenly obvious in abundance. He had 29 runs of 10 yards or more last season; through 12 games, that was second only to LeSean McCoy.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireMatt Forte's value for the 2012 season is now in major flux with Michael Bush in the mix in Chicago.

Still, the black mark that's stained Forte's career since his rookie season was still present: He couldn't score from short yardage. He had only 12 carries inside an opponent's 10 last year and he scored on exactly one of them (a 6-yarder in Week 10). In the season's first 12 weeks, the NFL leaders in close-in carries were Ray Rice and Michael Turner with 26. Marion Barber, then of the Bears, had nine. Blame the Chicago offensive line or blame the coaching staff for failing to trust Forte, but the eye test doesn't lie: Forte hasn't been a good short-TD maker in his NFL career. He does everything else well. But for fantasy, that's a constraining factor.

Enter Michael Bush. This rumbling, bumbling mound of humanity has scored 13 times from inside the 5 in the past two years alone, including all seven of his rushing scores in '11. If you're making bets about which Bears rusher will have more scores by the end of the season, you'd get lower odds on Bush.

And none of this is to mention the fact that while Forte has been franchise tagged by Chicago, he's yet to sign the one-year contract, and there's speculation that this acrimonious situation could lead to a holdout this summer. There was hope that the dismissal of former Bears GM Jerry Angelo might lead to a thawing, but new GM Phil Emery just signed Bush, which seems to indicate (a) he won't be held hostage if Forte doesn't show, and (b) he might be planning the 2013 season without Forte regardless.

All of this injects an uncertainty into Forte's fantasy stock that hurts his draftability. In my Top 100 list for 2012, I originally had him as my No. 5 RB and at No. 7 overall, a clear first-rounder based on the tremendous ability he flashed in the first three quarters if '11 and the hope that his contract would get resolved and only Kahlil Bell would be behind him on the RB depth chart in Chicago. None of those things has happened. Now I've lowered Forte to No. 8 on my RB list, but perhaps more importantly have taken him well out of first-round consideration. He's now No. 17 on my overall list, with the potential to drop lower if he really does hold out. Michael Bush previously sat at No. 22 on my RB list when I thought he might land someone's early-down job. He still might be a TD maker, but if Forte is playing, Bush is a backup, as he doesn't catch the ball on third down. For now, I'll put Bush at No. 27 among RBs, but if Forte reaches a contract resolution, Bush could go lower.