After what seemed like forever but was actually "only" about a year, the Bears and running back Matt Forte agreed Monday on the long-term deal the Pro Bowl running back has long coveted.
The four-year deal will pay Forte $32 million, including $18 million-plus in guaranteed money.
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Where Forte ranks in average salaryWith Matt Forte signing a new four-year deal with the Bears, here are the average salaries for top NFL running backs under contract:
Adrian Peterson, Vikings: $13,714,286
Darren McFadden, Raiders: $10,000,000
Chris Johnson, Titans: $9,210,000
Arian Foster, Texans: $8,700,000
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: $8,600,000
Matt Forte, Bears: $8,000,000
Ray Rice, Ravens: $8,000,000
LeSean McCoy, Eagles: $7,602,500
Steven Jackson, Rams: $7,467,500
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: $6,500,000
Michael Turner, Chargers: $5,750,000
It also avoids what could have been a season of animosity between Forte and the Bears, as Forte had grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of security and respect he was feeling without a long-term agreement.
"I'm proud to be a Chicago Bear and excited to be here for another four years," Forté said in a statement released Monday by the team. "I'd like to thank my family, my agent (Adisa Bakari) and the Chicago Bears. I've been working hard this off-season 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."
After Forte turned down a deal a year ago that would have paid him $14 million in guaranteed money, he was tagged in the offseason as the Bears' franchise player. Had Monday's long-term contract not been completed before the 3 p.m. deadline, Forte would have been paid $7.74 million for the 2012 season.
That might well have resulted in Forte refusing to report to training camp on time or at all, although it's doubtful he would have elected to sit out any regular-season games.
Since being selected in the second round (44th overall) of the 2008 draft out of Tulane, Forte has been the Bears' featured ball carrier and one of the team's top pass catchers, with more than 50 receptions in each of his four seasons.
Last season he was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage (997 rushing yards on 203 carries and 490 yards on 52 catches) when a sprained knee ended his season after 12 games. Since entering the league, Forté ranks sixth in the NFL with 6,218 yards from scrimmage. He also is the first player in franchise history with at least 1,400 scrimmage yards in each of his first four seasons.
Aside from validation for Forte, whose 4.9-yard average per carry last season was the best of his career, Monday's deal allows the Bears to begin training camp next week without any major contractual issues. That's a critical factor heading into a season in which the team believes it is can be a force in the NFL playoffs.
Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall was acquired to give the Bears the talented, king-size receiver they have always lacked, and running back Michael Bush was added as a backup/complement to Forte. Bush's four-year, $12 million contract included $7 million in guaranteed money, and it left Forte feeling a lack of respect from the Bears even though Bush is coming off a 977-yard rushing season for the Oakland Raiders.
Now he versatile, 6-foot-2, 218-pound Forte remains the key cog in the ground attack and a valuable component in what is expected to be an improved passing game.
Forte has rushed for 4,233 career yards and caught 223 passes for 1,985 yards in his four NFL seasons. His average per carry has jumped impressively in each of the last two seasons, from 3.6 in 2009 to 4.5 in 2010 and 4.9 last season. He had 15 more catches last season than any teammate, even though he missed the final four games.
"We're very pleased that we were able to come to terms on a four-year extension with Matt," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "We're excited to get him on the field and continue working towards our goal of winning a championship."
In addition to leading the Bears in rushing in each of his four seasons, Forte has finished first or second in receptions. He is the only player in NFL history with 900 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons.
Because he stayed away from all of the Bears' off-season activities, Forte will have some catching up to do with new offensive coordinator Mike Tice's playbook.
"There's a little different terminology," running backs coach Tim Spencer said, "but Matt is smart enough that he should be able to pick it up. Some of our things we're doing with the same name. We're doing some of the same things with a different name, too. Once he masters that, he should be OK. He should be very functional when he comes in."
While there also are some changes in pass protection and blitz pickup, Forte is expected to adapt seamlessly.
"I don't have any worries," Spencer said. "I would almost guarantee that he would come in and right away be better than some of the guys that have been doing it already."
No Bears coaches or players have any concerns about Forte's physical condition. A year ago, when there were no off-season programs because of the labor dispute, Forte came to camp in the best shape of his life, even though his contract situation had already become an issue.
"I know Matt Forte," coach Lovie Smith said after the team's final practice of the off-season last month. "I'm sure he's been spending all of his time getting ready to go."