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Matt Forte still wonders why it took so long for new deal

Matt Forte would have held out if Bears had not come around contract. | Getty Images

Matt Forte would have held out if the Bears had not come around on a contract. | Getty Images

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4 yrs., $32M ($18M guar.)

Adrian Peterson, MIN 7 yrs., $100M ($36 guar.)
Chris Johnson, TEN 6 yrs., $55M ($30M guar.)
Ray Rice, BAL 5 yrs., $40M ($24M guar.)
DeAngelo Williams, CAR 5 yrs., $43M ($21.1M guar.)
LeSean McCoy, PHI 5 yrs., $45M ($20.76M guar.)

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Updated: September 4, 2012 6:23AM

BOURBONNAIS — A week into training camp, there’s a buzz about the Bears, with record crowds lining up six deep on the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University.

The chatter centers on the readiness of young players such as left tackle J’Marcus Webb and rookie defensive end Shea ­McClellin.

But if not for an 11th-hour contract, hours before an NFL deadline, anyone who cares about the Bears would be wondering when Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte would show up.

Because, sans a long-term contract, he would have stayed away.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Forte told the Sun-Times, “but I wouldn’t have been here. No one wants to have to hold out and try to come in and learn the offense in a couple of weeks. But if it came down to it, I would have had no problem doing it.”

There’s goodwill galore, though, because Forte signed a four-year contract worth nearly $32 million on July 16, and his frustration toward Bears management has mostly dissipated.

“The only real hard feeling is that the deal could have been done last year,” Forte said. “That’s not Phil [Emery’s] fault. But as an organization, if you were really motivated to get it done, it could have been done last year.”

Here’s a look at the year that was, through Forte’s eyes.

Two sides to a deal

In July 2011, Forte married Danielle Daniels, so he was eager when talk of a long-term deal commenced.

“Just moving forward with your life,” Forte said, “that would have been nice.”

But, figuratively speaking, Forte and agent Adisa Bakari were in the north Chicago suburbs, and then Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was in southern Indiana.

In fact, Forte felt like it was all a façade.

“It felt like he intended to, so it would look like it in the media, but he really didn’t want to,” Forte said. “When you go through something like that, you feel very ­underappreciated.”

Then, even after a strong start, when Forte led the league in total yards from scrimmage, the Bears balked at negotiating.

“ ‘We don’t want it to be a distraction,’ ” Forte recalled the message from the Bears to him and Bakari. “So stuff like that really frustrates you as a player.

In recent years, the Bears deviated from their usual course, investing heavily in free agents and veterans via trade. In addition, his backups — Marion Barber, Chester Taylor and now Michael Bush — collected a combined $16.5 million in guarantees.

All while he was carrying the workload and wrapping up a four-year, $3.7 million rookie contract.

“I didn’t really think about it until it became my turn. Then I continued to wait,” he said. “ ‘Man, I got drafted by this team, and you’re usually supposed to take care of your own guys, not free agents.’ ”

When Bush signed his four-year deal in March, Forte considered sending out the following message on his Twitter account: “Here we go again.”

Faith and family

But his wife, whose father is a pastor, remained positive and supportive.

“She’s very spiritual, and she said, ‘Don’t worry about it because, in the end, God’s going to take care of it.’ ”

He started to lean on her favorite verse, Romans 8:28, which he knows by heart.

“Everything works out for the good of those who are called according to his purpose,” he recited. “So I thought about that and said, ‘Well, there’s nothing to worry about then.’ ”

Besides, Forte figured continuing to produce on the field eventually would pay off.

“I knew if I played at the highest level, that would boost my resume even more, whether it was with [the Bears] or not.”

Exercising patience, though, wasn’t always easy for his loved ones, most notably his father, Gene, who played football at Tulane.

“My dad was more angry about it then I was,” Matt said. “He’s on the outside looking in, ‘Well, why they going to sign another running back?’

“I told him, ‘It’ll happen.’ ”

In the meantime, Matt Forte’s teammates publicly backed him, insisting that he deserved a contract. Leaders such as Lance Briggs, Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher were among the most vocal.

“It’s very encouraging to see your teammates stand up for you, especially some of the guys who have been to multiple Pro Bowls,” Forte said.

So when he finally got his deal, Forte’s teammates were thrilled for him.

“I was ecstatic,” Bears center Roberto Garza said. “He’s always been a professional and done it the right way, on and off the field.

“When you go out and play like Matt has done the past couple years, you earn that type of contract.”

Moving forward

Forte isn’t the league’s highest-paid running back.

That, he insists, was never his goal, despite a report he was looking for Adrian Peterson money.

The Minnesota Vikings running back signed a seven-year, $100 million contract that includes
$36 million in guarantees.

And while running backs such as Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice got more money, Forte is content becoming a free agent one year earlier then them and securing his family’s future.

“You can’t look back on it and have a bunch of regrets,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have a deal done — with that much financial security — and I’m with my teammates, and we have a chance to be a pretty good team. I’m happy to be a Bear, and I’m glad everything worked out in the end.”

One of the team’s most popular players on Twitter, Forte utilized the social media website to communicate directly with fans. When there was a report that the Bears were concerned about his knees, Forte posted a video of him dragging a 100-pound sled up a hill.

“I posted the truth,” he says. “I had to speak up for myself.”

One of the questions is how the Bears will utilize two running backs who nearly had 1,000 rushing yards apiece last season. But Forte and Bush have the utmost respect for one another.

“He’s a great back,” Bush said.

Added Forte, “He’s very easy to get along with.

“At the end of the day, we’re kind of the same. We never get too high or way too low. In the end, it’s going to work out pretty good for everyone.”

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