If you didn't see this one coming, then you haven't been paying attention.
The Chicago Bears have placed the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte for the 2012 season.
Forte made roughly $550,000 in 2011, the final year of his rookie contract. The tag will pay Forte approximately $7.7 million under the new collective bargaining agreement. Yet that number is down significantly from the $9.6 million franchised running backs made in 2011 under the old CBA.
RB Matt Forte
The Bears and Forte's agent, Adisa Bikari, have been negotiating a long-term deal since training camp last season. The organization was reportedly only willing to offer him $13 million-$14 million in guaranteed money, far less than contracts paid out to comparable running back Adrian Peterson ($36 million), Chris Johnson ($30 million) and DeAngelo Williams ($21 million) last offseason.
Talks were put on hold during the season and stalled recently due to the front office transition from former GM Jerry Angelo to new GM Phil Emery.
Yet at the NFL Scouting Combine last weekend, the two sides renewed talks toward a long-term deal. Obviously, they couldn't hash anything out in a week but it's a sign the negotiations will continue, despite the tag.
Forte helped his cause last season, leading the league in yards from scrimmage for most of the campaign and earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Yet an MCL injury that cost him the last four games of the season underlined the risk of paying top dollar to an athlete playing a position of such volatility.
Talk of being franchised surfaced late last season and Forte has addressed the rumors. He said it's unlikely he'll hold out but he made it clear the franchise tag would not make him a happy player. It remains to be seen how the tag will affect his attitude and performance in 2012.
For now though, Bears fans need not worry that the team's best offensive player will hit the open market. Forte isn't going anywhere for the time being.
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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.