About midway through last season it became obvious former Chicago Bears GM Jerry Angelo was not going to reach an agreement on a contract extension with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte. Negotiations stalled in training camp and were tabled for the 2011 season. Even during the bye week, Angelo refused to resume talks with Forte's agent.
Around that time, the possibility of the organization placing the franchise tag on Forte became a real possibility. He led the league in all-purpose yards for most of the campaign, before a knee injury cost him the final four games of the season. He was the most dangerous player on Chicago's offense, leading the team in rushing yards and receptions. His homerun ability was sorely missed during the last month of the season, during which the team fell out of playoff contention.
Forte just finished his fourth NFL season and appears to be entering his prime. There is no way the Bears will allow him to hit the open market. If that means tagging him, then so be it.
RB Matt Forte
"[The franchise tag] is a tool that has been collectively bargained, that is fair to the player and fair to the club," said GM Phil Emery. "That's part of the collective bargaining agreement. It is a tool. That doesn't mean we're going to use it [on Forte]. It's just a tool that's out there."
Obviously, the organization wants to lock Forte up long-term. Yet with the volatility of the running back position in the NFL, it's easy to understand the hesitancy of the front office to break the bank on him. If the Bears do tag him, it will cost the club roughly $7.7 million next season.
Last season, the Bears left $7.74 million on the table in available cap space. In years past, that would've have meant nothing, as that money would have disappeared once the season ended – but not in 2012.
The latest collective bargaining agreement has a clause in it that states teams may carry over excess cap space from 2011 into 2012.
Under Article 13, Section 6(b)(v) of the CBA, each team may carry over any remaining cap room from one year to the next by submitting written notice, signed by the owner of the team, to the league office no later than 14 days before the start of the next league year. The written notice must indicate the maximum amount of cap room that the team wishes to shift from one cap year to the next.
So the Bears only need to be willing to commit the money and they'll have an extra $7.74 million to use next year on top of the cap – expected to be around $122 million. The Chicago organization has long been know for its penny pinching ways, so it's unclear if they'll want to dish out an additional $7 million in 2012, bringing the team's potential player payroll to nearly $130 million.
Yet if a long-term contract cannot be reached with Forte, the money he would cost under the franchise tag could be mitigated by the carryover clause. In essence, the Bears could tag him and it wouldn't cost them anything toward the 2012 cap.
This would be an ideal way to keep Forte on the roster and still have plenty of money – presumably around $20 million – left to sign free agents and draft picks.
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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.