Forte more likely to get franchise tag than multiyear deal
Significant cap room left for Bears to use on 16 players at end of contracts
Running back Matt Forte celebrates after scoring a touchdown on the Bucaneers at Wembley Stadium in London. (GARY HERSHORN, REUTERS / October 23, 2011)
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter 11:35 p.m. CDT, October 30, 2011
With more than $18 million in salary cap room remaining, the Bears have dealt with constant attention on what will happen with Matt Forte.
He is in the final year of his contract and a good chunk of that cap space was reserved to extend the running back's contract. He is nearly halfway through the best season of his career, on pace for 1,536 yards rushing and 2,494 from scrimmage.
If a deal can't be done, it's a near certainty general manager Jerry Angelo will use the franchise tag for just the second time since arriving in 2001. It would come at a price tag of about $7.7 million, meaning tagging Forte again in 2013 would cost roughly $9.2 million. (So roughly $17 mil over two years. This is what Forte should be targeting as a guaranteed portion of a 4-5 year $30 mil deal)
It's a lot of money, but that approach would minimize the Bears' risk, and after two years of playing under the tag, Forte would be 28 and through six NFL seasons at a position not kind to longevity. (This is where the Bears have a lot of leverage over him. He's just entering his prime and these are likely to be his best earning years. He won't get the kind of offers in 2014 he could get today)
Barring something unforeseen, Forte's contract is a question for the offseason. But that leaves significant cap room left to consider with 16 players — nine of whom have started at least one game — coming out of a contract at the end of the season. That's nearly one-third of the roster.
Teams are less likely to spend money if they're losing, but the Bears (4-3) have won their last two and emerged from the weekend off feeling good about momentum moving forward.
Does the team plan to work on contracts for other players? (The who's on and who's not on that list will be interesting. We can't sign them all)
"We do," Angelo said. "It's part of the plan for the money. The money is also reserved for injuries and the other thing we don't talk about, back sides of contracts. That's what people don't know. What the backsides are, the likely to be earned and not likely (incentives), that money has to be carved out from the money that you have. But saying what you said, yes." (But there aren't anywhere near $18 mil worth of "likely to be earned" incentives hanging out there. That's an excuse)
Minimum spending requirements built into the new collective bargaining agreement do not go into effect until 2013, and the Bears could roll their unused cap space for this year into 2012. But as one general manager not wrestling with signing a workhorse running back recently said, "it's a cash league, not a cap league." (This answers a question Butka and I were wrestling with. Neither of us was certain the 2011 cap excess could be carried over to 2012 this one time. Apparently it can which is why there's no rush to get Forte's deal done before the end of this cap year)
The fact is, it has been that way for a while. After the spending spree a year ago, the Bears had money remaining for two minor moves late in the season. They extended contracts for long snapper Pat Mannelly and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina in December 2010.
So, what's left in the budget? The Bears didn't spend a lot using a wide net in free agency after the lockout ended. Punter Adam Podlesh received the biggest deal. So, there's room to deal.
Wide receiver Earl Bennett, center Roberto Garza, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye are just a few players who might figure in the future. Thirteen players have deals expiring after 2012, and in the past, the front office was proactive targeting players a year out and extending them. Wide receiver Johnny Knox, nickel cornerback D.J. Moore and defensive tackle Henry Melton fit that profile. (I doubt they extend Garza with Spencer here now and I think Izzy may be looking at only a one or two year offer. Melton's new deal depends a lot on whether or not he starts getting some sacks because if we can only keep either him or Okoye than Okoye should get it. He's out playing Melton. Knox, Moore and Jennings should all get extensions)
Angelo has always said free agency starts within — the Bears look to keep their core players from exiting on the open market. But it projects to be another crowded shopping market in March.
"I think 50 percent of the guys that were out there (after the lockout ended) signed one-year deals," Angelo said. "There is going to be another windfall of players so we're not alone in having a lot of guys up. (All the more reason to fire the asshat and get a new personnel guy who won't screw it up again in 2012)
"The other thing too is we have a $120 million cap. We have to see how that settles. It will take a full year." (If I'm not mistaken that's a reduction of around $9 mil from the 2011 cap)
Sounds like it could be a buyers' market. It will be interesting to see if the Bears do any home shopping before the season ends. (Who gets an extension and who doesn't should create some interesting debates around here. At least we have 16 vets with a huge incentive to play at the top of their games from now until January)