The cash register seemed to be opening in Bears' running back Matt Forte's direction Saturday night.
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Forte performed like a player who will command the type of pay raise he is demanding.
Then Forte looked even more valuable when Marion Barber, his primary backup, left with a calf injury.
Oh, who's kidding whom here?
The Bears will wind up paying Forte essentially what they want because that's still the way the NFL system works for players with his service time.
It isn't fair, but fairness has nothing to do with it. Leverage has everything to do with it.
Forte stood out again in the Bears' 14-13 exhibition loss to the Titans in Nashville.
As quarterback Jay Cutler said, "We left some points out there. You hate to see that but our offensive line played better, the receivers played better and Matt ran the ball."
Forte had a routine game for him. He gained 74 yards on 17 carries, caught a pass for 21 yards and leveled a Titans' blitzer.
All Forte can do to pressure the Bears into paying him like a premier running back is what he has being doing -- play well and threaten to hold out once the season starts.
So far that strategy hasn't worked. All holding out would do is cost Forte some of the money on his current contract and some of the limited playing time in an NFL player's career.
Of course, there is a certain comfort in standing on principle. There's a certain satisfaction in obeying your emotions. There's a certain self-esteem in standing up to the establishment.
Look, Matt Forte is one heck of a football player and the Bears know it. They would like to give him a raise, but like most bosses in most industries they just aren't inclined to pay him any more than they have to.
Forte would get what he wants if this mini-labor dispute were all about winning football games. The more you watch him the more he looks like a running back the Bears can win with.
A lot of all-time great running backs -- O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders -- never won a championship. So the prevailing opinion became that rushers are disposable and replaceable.
Well, ask the Rams whether they would have won their Super Bowl without Marshall Faulk. Ask the Cowboys whether they would have won theirs without Emmitt Smith.
Forte isn't in their class. Maybe his problem is that he isn't as flashy as, say, Gale Sayers was either or as powerful as, say, Walter Payton was.
But Matt Forte is a full-service back. Not the least of his attributes is durability, which enables him to run inside, get outside, catch passes and protect his quarterback.
Overall, again, this is one really good football player with the potential to have a really great career.
So in a world of negotiating equals Forte would have the leverage to receive the merit raise that would make him a happy football player.
The Bears are so far under the league's salary cap that they could give Forte big bucks up front in a rewritten contract and still protect themselves from the cap in ensuing years.
But in this world of uneven equals, the Bears will give Matt Forte only enough to keep his body on the field and his mind in the game.
In other words ... pretty much cha-clang!