Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears have agreed to a four-year contract, settling the biggest issue hanging over the team.
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The Bears confirmed the deal before Monday’s deadline. Had the sides not reached an agreement, Forte would have had to play next season for $7.74 million after being hit with the franchise player tag. Or he could have held out.
The Bears did not release terms and agent Adisa Bakari did not return calls seeking comment. The Chicago Sun-Times, citing an unidentified source, reported the deal is worth $32 million with more than $18 million guaranteed.
With Forte signed, the Bears will have all their key pieces in place when training camp starts next week.
”I’m proud to be a Chicago Bear and excited to be here for another four years,” Forte said in a statement released by the Bears. ”I’d like to thank my family, my agent and the Chicago Bears. I’ve been working hard this offseason and am looking forward to joining my teammates at training camp next week. I’m glad the business part is done and we can all turn our attention to football and our goal of winning a championship.”
Forte expressed optimism that a deal would get done in an interview with ESPN last week, and it happened just in time. It ended a long process that began last year when he sought a multiyear extension. Negotiations with then-general manager Jerry Angelo went nowhere, but Forte decided not to hold out.
He wound up having his best season.
Forte made the Pro Bowl for the first time, finishing with 1,487 yards from scrimmage and 997 rushing. He missed the last four games after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee early in a loss to Kansas City on Dec. 4.
By then, the Bears were in the middle of a free fall after losing quarterback Jay Cutler to a broken right thumb. They wound up finishing 8-8 after a 7-3 start and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years after reaching the NFC title game the previous year.
The late plunge cost Angelo his job, setting in motion an active offseason. Phil Emery was hired as GM and quickly went to work reshaping the roster.
He acquired Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall from Miami, giving Cutler a go-to target for the first time since he arrived from Denver. Even better, it’s someone he knows well. Cutler and Marshall put up big numbers when they teamed with the Broncos, particularly in 2008.
The Bears also filled a need at backup quarterback by bringing in Jason Campbell and signing running back Michael Bush, giving them depth at the position and insurance. That didn’t sit well with Forte, who vented on Twitter that management was ”undervaluing” him and that he was ”disrespected.”
Getting him locked in is an important step for a team that’s eyeing a big run.
Forte was leading the league in yards from scrimmage before he was injured last season, and he ranks sixth in the league in that category since the Bears drafted him in 2008. He is the only player in NFL history with at least 900 yards rushing and 400 receiving in each of his first four seasons.
”We’re very pleased that we were able to come to terms on a four-year extension with Matt,” Emery said. ”We’re excited to get him on the field and continue working toward our goal of winning a championship.”
The Bears believe they have the talent to compete with Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North and make a playoff run. Even so, there are some lingering questions.
It remains to be seen if the blockers can hold their ground, although the Bears believe the offensive line will be put in more of a position to succeed with Mike Tice replacing the departed Mike Martz as coordinator.
The defensive line also is a question mark. The Bears drafted Shea McClellin with the 19th pick, hoping he can help take some of the load off Julius Peppers after Chicago tied for 19th in the league with 33 sacks.
Age could also be an issue on defense, with Briggs, Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman all in their 30s. Then again, Briggs just made his seventh straight Pro Bowl. Urlacher got picked for the eighth time last season, and Tillman made it for the first time.