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Matt Forte’s worth clarified by contracts

It wouldn’t be surprise if Matt Forte (right) receives better contract from Bears than four-year $31 millideal th­Marshawn Lynch signed

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Matt Forte (right) receives a better contract from the Bears than the four-year, $31 million deal that ­Marshawn Lynch signed with the Seahawks. The Bears put the franchise tag on Forte. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 10, 2012 10:28AM

The Bears were among a record 21 NFL clubs to use the franchise tag by the deadline Monday.

The Houston Texans would have been No. 22, but they signed Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster to a five-year contract Monday morning, then opted not to use the franchise tag on anyone else, most notably defensive end Mario Williams.

Yet the execution of contracts for Foster and Marshawn Lynch with the Seattle ­Seahawks provides clarity to what had been a murky market at running back.

Lynch signed a four-year, $31 million contract that included $18 million guaranteed, and Foster signed a five-year deal worth up to $43.5 million with $20.75 million guaranteed. What the Bears want to pay Matt Forte hasn’t been publicized, but Lynch’s deal would appear to be the floor. The cost of franchising a running back in 2012 and 2013 is just under $17 million.

In the NFL, especially at a position so affected by injuries, guaranteed money rules. The standard was set at $36 million by the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans is next at $30 million.

But the next tier is surprisingly topped by DeAngelo Williams, and Foster clearly modeled his deal after the Carolina Panthers running back. Foster accepted only $250,000 less in guarantees, a modest concession because the Texans could have made him a restricted free agent.

“I give the Texans credit,” Foster’s agent, Mike McCartney, told the Associated Press. “He was restricted, at a low salary. It would’ve been really easy for [the Texans] to just sit back and see what happened.”

That was the strategy of Bears general manager ­Jerry Angelo, which frustrated Forte.

Before the Super Bowl, Forte said he was “anxious” to meet new general manager Phil Emery.

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

Emery reportedly was scheduled to meet with Forte’s agent, Adisa Bakari, at the NFL combine.

On Friday, when the Bears announced that they put the franchise tag on Forte, Bakari said the move wasn’t a “surprise at all.” Emery reinforced the organization’s ­belief in Forte “as a player and a person.”

“Our intention is to continue to work to find common ground and keep Matt as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2012 and beyond,” Emery said in a statement.

But the next couple of months will be telling.

Forte isn’t technically under contract, so he doesn’t have to show up to the team’s mandatory minicamps and workouts. That’s his primary leverage because the Bears replaced Mike Martz with Mike Tice as offensive coordinator.

Even if the Bears sign a big-name receiver such as Vincent Jackson, Forte would remain a major part of the team’s offense. Quarterback Jay Cutler hasn’t been shy about casting his support of Forte, who led the league in yards from scrimmage before suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament that cost him the final four games of the regular ­season.

Why should Forte expect a better deal than Lynch?

The latter has had several off-the-field incidents, which, in part, compelled the Buffalo Bills to trade him to the Seahawks. As for production, Lynch has 1,137 career carries for 4,542 yards and 143 catches for 1,020 yards. In one fewer NFL season, Forte has 1,014 carries for 4,233 yards and 223 catches for 1,985 yards. Lynch has scored 37 touchdowns, compared to Forte’s 29.

In general, teams are ­reluctant to invest in running backs. That Peterson missed the final four games because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament and that one of the aforementioned running backs (Johnson) started all 16 games bolsters that approach.

But when the Bears offense got rolling, Forte was considered an MVP candidate, because he produced, despite not having the supporting cast of backs as did Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy.

The Bears won’t be prohibited by salary-cap space. If the cap doesn’t change, they would be at least $32 million under. They’re willing to commit $7.7 million to Forte in 2012, but whether they would be willing to commit more over the long haul is the ­multimillion question.

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