Since last offseason, Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears have been dicussing a long-term contract for the team’s starting running back. The deal couldn’t get done during camp last year.
The Bears reportedly were willing to offer no more than $14 million guaranteed. Forte wants roughly $20 million guaranteed. That’s a big gap to bridge.
The club slapped Forte with the franchise tag earlier this month, which will pay him $7.7 million in 2012 – a significant raise from the $600,000 he made last season.
Last week, Chicago signed free agent ball carrier Michael Bush to a four-year deal worth $14 million. The move didn’t sit well with Forte, who lashed out on Twitter:
“There's only so many times a man that has done everything he's been asked to do can be disrespected! Guess the GOOD GUYS do finish last....”
Team president Ted Phillips spoke with the Chicago Sun Times and said he’s hopeful a deal will soon get done.
“I think not only do we appreciate him and have told him so, but I think the offer we've made him shows that, too," Phillips said yesterday. “Now, different people can disagree on the ultimate value. But we feel we've made a strong offer to him and are still hopeful he accepts it.”
The club plans to use both Bush and Forte next year in a backfield rotation but Phillips said Forte is still the starter.
“Matt Forte is our No. 1 running back,” Phillips said. “He's been told that, and he knows that. We all know that. He's going to be a Bear for 2012, at least. He knows he has a long-term offer on the table, and we hope, at some point and time, he chooses to accept that.”
The organization has spent $23 million the past three years on backup running backs. Yet they haven’t been as willing to throw money at the best offensive player on the roster. As such, Forte has apparently reached a tipping point. A holdout is a very real possibility.
Coach Lovie Smith told ESPN he doesn’t believe there is anything to worry about.
“We love him, he's going to rush for a lot of yards for us,” Smith said. “It's going to work out fine.”
By signing Bush, the Bears have a solid backup plan in case things turn ugly. So it appears they have presented a final, take-it-or-leave-it offer. The franchise tag, plus Bush, gives them all the leverage.
Forte now must decide whether to swallow his pride and accept the deal on the table or draw this fight out even longer.
McCaskey confident in Marshall
The Bears have received a lot of heat over the acquisition of receiver Brandon Marshall, who has a history of violence against women. Marshall chalked up his past mistakes to borderline personality disorder, for which he’s receiving treatment.
Club chairman George McCaskey says Marshall understands his obligations as a representative of one of the NFL’s charter organizations.
“He is a human being,” McCaskey told the Chicago Tribune. “He knows what his responsibilities are. His teammates and coaches will set the expectations for him and provide a stable environment for him, and he's going to do his part.
“When I met him, I welcomed him to the Bears family and told him we were very excited to have him. And I told him being part of the Bears family carries with it certain privileges and also carries with it certain obligations. He said he understands.
“I'm encouraged because he has spoken very candidly and very courageously about his condition. He recognizes the need for proper maintenance and a stable environment and strong personalities to guide him. I think we have the environment and personalities.”
McCaskey also expressed confidence in Lovie Smith, who has led the team to the playoffs just once the past five seasons.
“We do [believe Smith is the right guy],” said McCaskey.
Yet despite the vote of confidence, he didn’t hide the fact that Smith needs to win now.
“Lovie will be the first to tell you that everybody in the NFL is there on a prove-it basis,” McCaskey said. “From what I’ve seen, he and Phil are working very well together. We hope that shows in results on the field.”
If the Bears don’t have a strong showing in the playoffs this year, expect a pink slip for Smith.
Packers coach impressed with Marshall
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy believes the acquisition of Brandon Marshall will be a big boost to Chicago's offense.
“Brandon is a problem for defenses matching up,” McCarthy told the Chicago Tribune. “He’s a No. 1 receiver, he’s a hard guy to single up and play. They definitely got better.
"Plus, he has the relationship with (Jay) Cutler. There is definitely value in that. It will complement their run game. They ran the ball very, very well at the end of the year, the way they wanted to run the ball. They definitely improved.”
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.