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Running back Michael Bush’s addition to Bears sparks backlash

Running back Matt Forte thinks he’s being disrespected by Bears. He says Bears don’t take care their own. | Tom

Running back Matt Forte thinks he’s being disrespected by the Bears. He says the Bears don’t take care of their own. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 24, 2012 8:22AM

The signing of running back Michael Bush usually would be a cause for celebration, an obvious opportunity for the Bears to trumpet that their roster is better today than yesterday.

Last season, mostly in nine starts, Bush racked up 977 rushing yards and scored eight touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders, filling in admirably when starter Darren McFadden was sidelined with a foot injury. In four NFL seasons, the 2007 fourth-round pick has averaged 4.2 yards and scored 22 touchdowns.

Choosing between the Bears and the Bengals, Bush decided to head to Chicago, signing a four-year contract worth up to $14 million.

The move, though, didn’t sit well with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte.

In a self-titled Twitter rant, Forte said he felt “disrespected” because he has done everything he has been asked to do. Later, he clarified that he didn’t have any problem with the Bears adding a running back — “I embrace competition as well as help,” he wrote — but with the Bears “not taking care of [your] own and undervaluing a player under his market value.”

Last year, Forte considered not reporting to training camp on time, which would’ve subjected him to a daily fine. But this year, Forte is unsigned, with the Bears’ one-year, $7.74 million franchise tender on the table. He could skip mandatory camps, if he so chooses, although he does have a hard-and-fast deadline to abide by. His power play is to deny the team one of its most important players from last season during this offseason, in training camp and perhaps into the regular season.

But to get credit for the 2012 season, Forte must sign his franchise tender by Week 10, although he’d forfeit the paychecks from any games he misses.

In an interview with the Sun-Times just before the Super Bowl, Forte said how he’ll react to the franchise 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 noted “everyone wants a long-term deal.”

That’s the murkiness of this showdown: What is fair market value and how does that affect other players in their future negotiations?

The former isn’t clear because neither Forte nor his agent, Adisa Bakari, has indicated what sort of contract terms he’s looking for, specifically guaranteed money. The ceiling is Adrian Peterson’s seven-year deal, which included $36 million in guarantees. The floor, apparently, is the $13 million to $14 million the Bears offered to guarantee last summer, according to ESPN Chicago. Recently, however, running backs Marshawn Lynch ($18 million guaranteed) and Arian Foster ($20.75 million guaranteed) have scored lucrative contracts.

The latter point (a team taking care of its own) is clear.

Forte has more than justified his second-round draft selection and his four-year, $3.7 million rookie contract. He has carried the ball 1,014 times for 4,233 yards, and he has caught 223 passes for 1,985 yards, missing only four games.

But the Bears paid his backups $13.3 million during that same stretch, while only getting 260 carries for 798 yards, an average of 3.06 yards per carry. Chester Taylor signed a four-year, $12 million contract, but he walked away after one season and collected $7 million.

“Since drafting Matt in 2008, the Bears have signed Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber, all ostensibly to serve as Matt’s backup,” Bakari said in a statement. “To sign yet another running back, prior to completing a contract with Matt, suggests disregard for Matt and his contribution to the Bears.”

Bakari didn’t elaborate any further.

Because Forte is not under contract, the Bears can’t trade him. But, according to a league executive, the Bears could grant Forte and his agent an opportunity to find a suitable trade partner. That, of course, would entitle the Bears to some sort of compensation.

For the most part, players were diplomatic about Bush’s signing and Forte’s situation. But fullback Tyler Clutts forwarded along a Twitter post from a retired NFL player.

“My point on Forte is, the organization continues to say how big a part of their plans [and] he’s the future at RB, then pay him like that,” Cameron Worrell wrote.

Once again, though, the fundamental issue arises. The Bears are willing to pay him, but the question is, how much and would it satisfy Forte.

The drama continues.

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