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Matt Forte feels unappreciated without a long-term deal

Matt Forte

Matt Forte

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Updated: December 3, 2011 8:23AM

Running back Matt Forte, who is on pace to break team records, isn’t feeling the love from the Bears. And he’s starting to wonder if his durability is being taken for granted.

‘‘The running back position is the most physically demanding on the field,’’ Forte said Tuesday. ‘‘Everyone acknowledges that. So to continue to give me the touches I’ve had since my rookie year but not award me a long-term contract sends the message that you’re OK grinding me into a pulp.’’

Forte hasn’t missed a game since being taken in the second round of the 2008 draft, playing through an assortment of injuries, particularly in 2009. But he rebounded in 2010 and leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage this season with 1,091.

But as the Bears approach the midway point of their season, Forte’s frustration toward the front office is palpable. Asked if the lack of a contract extension affects his desire to stay with the franchise, Forte said: ‘‘It does a little bit. I love the team, I love my teammates, I love the coaches and I love Chicago. But when management messes with you like that, it puts you in the mind frame of wanting to go to a team that desires you. You’re not going to be happy, let’s say that.’’

Forte is making $600,000 this season, the league minimum for an NFL player with his experience, as the final installment of his four-year, $3.7 million rookie contract. General manager Jerry Angelo made a contract extension for Forte a priority during training camp, but the Bears’ best offer was thought to be about $6 million a year, with
$13 million to $14 million guaranteed.

Those figures pale by comparison to other running backs who recently secured long-term deals: The Carolina Panthers’ DeAngelo Williams received $21 million in guarantees, the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson $30 million and the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson $36 million.

Forte, though, acknowledged the Bears hold the leverage and said he’s growing weary of all the inquiries about his status.

‘‘There’s nothing I can do about it,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s up to them. They hold the contract extensions and the franchise tags in their hands.

‘‘It’s kind of getting old right now. Every time you talk to somebody, ‘How come they’re not paying you, man?’ I have no idea. I feel like if it was anybody else on any other team, I think they would have
rewarded their player.’’

The Bears can keep Forte for next season by putting the franchise tag on him. The tool gives teams an opportunity to retain one player while ensuring that player gets paid handsomely (the average of the five highest-paid players at his position). For 2012, the franchise tag for a running back is projected to be between $7.5 million and $8 million.

Still, Forte insisted that’s not a solution.

‘‘If they think by just slapping the franchise tag on me that’s going to silence anything, they’re sadly mistaken,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s not going to cure everything. It’s not a solution, I would say.’’

Angelo left open the possibility of signing Forte to an extension this season, but the Bears’ track record has been to do deals toward the end of a season. The Bears have about $18 million in salary-cap space, and they have more than a dozen players who are scheduled to become free agents after the season.

Teammates have lobbied on Forte’s behalf, and captain Brian Urlacher suggested after the victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London that Forte was the most valuable player of the NFL. In addition, fans have taken to Twitter with a ‘‘Pay Forte’’ campaign.

‘‘I appreciate the support,’’ Forte said. ‘‘Obviously, I’m doing something right for everybody to support me that way. I’m just going
to keep doing what I’m doing, and hopefully I can get a contract
extension instead of a franchise tag or whatever that is.’’

Adisa Bakari, Forte’s agent, said the key is fairness.

‘‘Matt has a desire to remain a Chicago Bear,’’ Bakari said. ‘‘He loves the community and loves playing for the organization, but he wants to be treated fairly .  .  . the way other teams have treated their top-performing players. Nothing more, nothing less.’’

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