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Bears RB Matt Forte eager to meet GM Phil Emery, wants ‘to remain in Chicago’

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte signals after rushing for second quarter touchdown during 34-29 wover CarolinPanthers Sunday October 2

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte signals after rushing for a second quarter touchdown during the 34-29 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday October 2, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 4, 2012 8:18AM

INDIANAPOLIS — Refreshed and inspired after his first trip to the Pro Bowl, Bears running back Matt Forte shined in the media spotlight days before Super Bowl XLVI, just blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium.

He appeared on three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s Sirius NFL Radio show, and he exchanged pleasantries with four-time All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr.

“Man, I’m campaigning for you,” Fitzgerald told Forte.

In 2011, with a base salary of $550,000, Forte was among the most underpaid players in the NFL, a point reinforced by Vizio naming him a finalist for its annual “Top Value Performer” award.

But in an interview with the Sun-Times Thursday, Forte said he’s optimistic about striking a long-term deal with the Bears with the recent hire of general manager Phil Emery.

“I want to remain in Chicago and remain a Bear,” Forte said.

“I’m anxious to get into a meeting and meet him,” Forte later said of Emery.

Forte had been frustrated with former general manager Jerry Angelo, who resisted negotiating with Forte’s agent, Adisa Bakari, on a fair-market contract extension.

But Forte showed up to training camp on time and asserted himself as one of the league’s best running backs in 2011, leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage until he suffered a sprained MCL that knocked him out of the final four games.

Now, Forte is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and his price presumably has gone up.

“I never harbored hard feelings toward anybody,” Forte said, when asked about his feelings toward Angelo. “He had his opinions. Everyone is entitled to their opinions.

“We’ll continue to negotiate with them, and we’ll see where it ends up at.”

One encouraging sign is that Emery comes from two clubs that didn’t shy away from investing in the running back position. In December 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs signed Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles to a five-year, $32.5 million contract with $13 million in guarantees. And in Atlanta, where Emery worked before the Chiefs, the Falcons signed Michael Turner to a six-year, $34.5 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. While he’s a two-time Pro Bowl selection now, Turner had only flashed potential as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego when they signed him.

The market has jumped since those deals were done.

The high end is Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, who signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with $36 million guaranteed. And the low end is Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams, who signed a five-year, $43 million deal with the Panthers that included $21 million in guarantees.

So the average per year is between $8.6 million and $14 million.

This offseason, though, two other standout running backs will also be looking for new deals. Baltimore’s Ray Rice will be an unrestricted free agent, and Houston’s Arian Foster will be a restricted one.

The average starts at $8 million, since that’s the expected franchise tag for a running back in 2012. Teams have between Feb. 20 and March 5 to apply the tag.

Forte said how he’ll react to the tag “depends on the motive behind it.”

“If they franchise me, so we can work on a deal, then that’s fine,” he said. “But if they do it, just to slap the tag on me to keep me around for a year...”

He didn’t finish the thought, although he added that “everyone wants a long-term deal.”

A second-round pick out of Tulane, Forte has grown to love the Bears and Chicago.

That his wife’s family is from the area only makes remaining with the club more appealing.

He took his parents and wife and her parents to Hawaii, and he had no regrets or concerns about playing in the Pro Bowl.

“I wouldn’t have gone out there if I wasn’t 100 percent,” he said. “But I’m healed up, and I’m ready to go.”

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