Bears Near Deadline for Forte Decision..................
Bears nearing deadline for Forte decision
By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter 11:38 a.m. CST, February 13, 2012
The Chicago Bears can lock up the services of Matt Forte for the 2012 season starting next Monday. That's when the window opens for teams to use the franchise tag, a 15-day period that extends to 3 p.m. on March 5 -- eight days before the opening of free agency.
New general manager Phil Emery was non-commital when asked about the franchise tag in his introductory news conference, but the Bears have been clear all along that they will place the tag on Forte if a long-term contract can't be worked out before March 5. That gives the sides three weeks to carve out a deal.
But the franchise tag would not necessarily rule out a multi-year deal for Forte. Even if he is tendered, a long-term contract still could be worked out before the July 15 deadline. After that, Forte could only play under the one-year tender, which is expected to be about $7.7 million -- or $7.1 million more than he earned this past season.
The Bears have used the franchise tag only once with linebacker Lance Briggs in 2007. Former defensive tackle Bryan Robinson had the transition tag placed on him in 2001. In Briggsí case, the franchise tag did not lead to a contract before the season started. He ended up becoming an unrestricted free agent before the Bears eventually brought him back.
The Bears could place the franchise tag on Forte again in 2013 at a cost of 120 percent of the 2012 tag number -- or about $9.24 million. But better than committing $16.9 million to him over two seasons would be working out a long-term extension.
Right now, the Bears project to have nearly $20 million in available salary-cap room. Thatís plenty of space to do just about whatever they want. But itís not about cap space with Forte and it never has been. Itís about a budget and how much they want to pay the running back who is coming off his first Pro Bowl season.
Forte has been a model of durability during his career. He missed the final four games this past season with a sprained MCL in his right knee, the first significant injury of his NFL career. He started 60 consecutive games before being injured Dec. 4 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. The 26-year-old has been a workhorse and the statistics bear that out. When you combine the numbers from his senior season at Tulane, Forte has 1,375 rushes and 255 receptions for a total of 1,630 touches over the previous five years.
Thatís a lot of football mileage but what has been impressive about Forte is heís gotten better as heís developed. He showed up for training camp last summer with more muscle than heís ever carried and it worked. He was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage when he was injured, and his average of 4.9 yards per carry was a career high. He was an explosive runner on the edges and the Bears played to that strength.
Now, weíll see how this plays out. Emeryís arrival might not dramatically change business in this case because contract negotiator Cliff Stein is still in place and president Ted Phillips already has been involved on a deal of this scale. But a new voice in the room could create some change.